NASHVILLE, TN - 2021.12.23 - Titans vs 49ers

Tennessee Titans face the 49ers at Nissan Stadium, Dec. 23, 2021

If for some reason you were drunk in early September and decided to lay out $100 on the Cincinnati Bengals to win the AFC North — a division that also includes the Baltimore Ravens, a perennial contender, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, a perennial playoff team for no discernible reason — you'd have pocketed a $2,500 profit. 

No one, least of all the bookmakers, saw this coming. Cigar-smoking Joe Burrow, owner of the worst slide this side of Action Park, stayed healthy and had the good sense to realize that Ja'Marr Chase is capable of catching anything thrown in the same biome as him. The Bengals finished 10-7, a half-game ahead of the Steelers and two games better than the Cleveland Browns and the Old Cleveland Browns. (Baltimore technically finished in the AFC North basement much to everyone in Tennessee's chagrin, I'm sure.) 

Last weekend, the Bengals beat the Las Vegas Raiders 25-19 for the franchise's first playoff win in 31 years. (Last one was against the Houston Oilers, coincidentally.) Surely the good people of Ohio's fifth-coolest major city celebrated with mountains of liquid brown potpourri deceitfully called chili and a side of goetta, which for the uninitiated can best be described as "haggis without the charm (or the stomach)," "Ohio's half-hearted attempt at making livermush" or, as one Queen City blogger wrote, "poor man's meat gruel." And he was being complimentary!

Speaking of cuisine, which I guess I am in a technical sense, the Greater Cincinnati Area (also known as "Kentucky and the more West Virginia-ish parts of Ohio") is one of the few places on earth where mock turtle soup is still popular or even available. Mock turtle soup was created when some addled person said "I love eating soup made out of turtles, but turtles are getting hard to find, but you know what tastes like turtles? Calf's head." So overarching is the need to relish the flavor of a turtle, Cincinnatians turn to beheaded cattle. Given that the soup alternative looks like used motor oil with meat chunks and includes cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, maybe they are onto something.

Which brings us to the Bengals. (Believe me, I am bringing this in for a landing.) For the return of Derrick Henry in a home playoff game, it would have been better if we had any of the other — admittedly disgusting — options from the AFC North. There's history with Pittsburgh dating back to the old AFC Central days and plenty of the same with Baltimore. At best, the Bengals and Browns are lovable losers, and Cincinnati isn't even as lovable as its statemates. Basically, we ended up with the mock turtle soup of the division. Maybe it's good, but it's still a guillotined calf's head in some broth. Maybe these new-look Baby Bengals are the future of the AFC North, but it's hard to overlook the fact that until one week ago, they'd not won a playoff game since the middle of the Bush Sr. administration — when "Justify My Love" was the No. 1 song in America.

Yes, the Bengals have a high-flying pass offense, so the key is to win the way the Titans win when they are at their best: play smart defense and chew the clock up on offense. Force Burrow to chase the game. (See what I did there?) Despite his heroics, he's still a young quarterback leading a team with paltry playoff experience in a road game. 

The week off has helped the Titans get healthy (for once). A team that's faced and overcome the kind of adversity the Two-Toners have this year — using 91 players and still becoming the first team to beat eight teams with winning records is nothing to scoff at — is not going to be scared of Joe Burrow. 

But this edition of the Titans has also had a tendency to lay an egg against bad teams (the Jets, the Texans), just as it's been able to beat other good teams fairly handily. So it's certainly not a gimme, but there's good reason to remain hopeful Tennessee will enjoy a few more weeks of the postseason.

The game kicks at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on CBS with Ian Eagle and Charles Davis Trent Green (Davis has COVID) on the call. 

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