Cincinnati Halfway through the season, the beaten-down Bengals and Chiefs started looking forward to this one.
At noon today, Cincinnati and Kansas City will share misery and empathy as they end their woeful seasons together. At least one of them will get a win — or, maybe, they’ll play to a tie that would be a perfectly fitting finale.
Either way, their seasons will be over. Finally. And then they can start to forget about game plans and move on to the stuff they’ve all been thinking about for the last few weeks, the questions that matter most for both teams.
Who stays? Who goes? Where do they go from here?
“At this point in the season, you start thinking about what’s going to happen,” said Bengals quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.
The Chiefs (2-13) are already on the move.
General manager Carl Peterson announced earlier this month he’s leaving after his 20th season. Owner Clark Hunt is interviewing candidates to replace him. Whoever gets the job will have a say in whether coach Herm Edwards sticks around.
That’s plenty to think about already.
“With Carl Peterson resigning, stepping down, you hear small talk here and there,” quarterback Tyler Thigpen said. “What’s going to go on? Is Herm going to be here? Is our offensive staff going to be here? Things like that.”
The Bengals (3-11-1) have a lot fewer questions. There is no general manager to replace — owner Mike Brown functions as the de facto GM — and coach Marvin Lewis has two years left on his contract, giving him job security. The main intrigue in Cincinnati is whether any assistant coaches will be replaced or whether the front office will try to rebuild an offense that ranks last in the league.
Are changes ahead?
“I would assume that’s going to happen,” leading receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said. “But you know what they say about when you assume.”
Everyone can assume that the final game will be a fitting ending to a pair of seasons that essentially were over before the halfway point. Both teams started 0-3. Both lost their starting quarterbacks. Both were challenging records that no one wants to touch.
Kansas City is in a 2-22 rut over the last two seasons. At Edwards’ urging, the Chiefs started rebuilding in the offseason, purging veterans and replacing them with one of the league’s youngest rosters. Their inexperience has showed.
The Chiefs have 18 rookies on their roster, which also has been hit by injuries. The season has turned into the kind of struggle Edwards expected.
“Practice always goes well,” Edwards said. “It’s those games we have trouble with.”
The defense has the most trouble. It ranks second-to-last in the NFL in yards allowed, and has only nine sacks. Since the NFL started counting sacks as an official statistic in 1981, no team has had fewer than 13 in a non-strike season.
The Chiefs have already assured themselves the worst record in the franchise’s 49-year history, eclipsing the 2-12 mark of the 1977 team. Detroit is 0-15 heading into its final game, with the No. 1 overall draft pick locked up. For a while, it looked like Sunday’s game could decide the No. 2 overall pick, but the Bengals played themselves out of contention by winning their last two games.
So, the Chiefs are wondering whether they’ll wind up with that second pick — the Rams also are 2-13 — and whether they’ll be playing their final game under Edwards.
“I anticipate coming back next year,” Edwards said. “If the GM comes in and decides to go in another direction with another coach, that’s his call. I don’t worry about that.”
The players are wondering how many more of them will be gone in the next round of remaking the roster, regardless of who’s in charge.
“You start thinking to yourself, ’There’s a chance some of the people on this team will never play football again in the NFL. This could be their last game,”’ Pro Bowl offensive guard Brian Waters said. “And that’s not just our team, it’s throughout the league.”
The Bengals are wondering what happens next with an offense that came apart after quarterback Carson Palmer partially tore the ligament and tendon in his throwing elbow during the third game of the season. Even though he was back to practicing last week, it’s not certain he can avoid reconstructive surgery.
Houshmandzadeh is a free agent. Chad Ocho Cinco has two years left on his contract. Chris Henry made little impact after owner Mike Brown brought him back. The two offensive tackles are hurt. The offensive line has struggled. The situation at running back is clouded.
There’s a lot that can change once the season finally ends.
“End of the road, man,” Ocho Cinco said. “No, I’m not sad. I’m not sad at all. There were a lot of ups and downs this year, a lot of injuries. That’s no excuse. But I’m not sad at all.”
— Sports Writer Doug Tucker in Kansas City, Mo., contributed to this report.