Week 17 is a notoriously difficult week to predict. Teams with no lingering postseason hope line up a smattering of disengaged players, while teams already secure in their playoff standing rest the ones who matter most.
But one massive matchup Sunday night will feature two teams emptying their tanks in a de facto playoff game. The Packers and Lions will battle in a Week 17 showdown to determine the league’s final division champ. Whoever stands triumphant in Detroit will take the NFC North crown and earn a hosting gig for the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
After that touchdown, McCarron couldn’t lead the Bengals to another until only one minute was left in the game, settling for two field goals and gifting the Steelers two easy interceptions. One was returned for a touchdown that gave Pittsburgh a 23-7 lead early in the second half.
Can McCarron have better days ahead if he’s the player asked to take over for the remainder of the year? Sure, but Sunday didn’t build a convincing case that the 2014 fifth-round pick can lead a Super Bowl contender.
Still, the Bengals have an elite defense and did a relatively good job against a Steelers offense that eclipsed 30 points for a fifth straight game. Had they not been aided by a pick-six and great field position in the fourth quarter from McCarron’s second interception, that streak of 30-point games could have come to an end on Sunday against a Bengals defense that didn’t allow Ben Roethlisberger to throw a touchdown pass.
But that’s the biggest difference between Dalton and an inexperienced quarterback that the Bengals will likely have to contend with now. Dalton entered Week 14 with an NFL-best 107.4 passer rating, keeping things efficient and relatively mistake-free for the Cincinnati offense. McCarron’s mistakes proved costly.
Are the Bengals sunk? Probably not, but things are certainly more bleak than they were when the team arrived at Paul Brown Stadium this morning.