Bengals beat writers Paul Dehner Jr. and Fletcher Page preview the team’s Week 8 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Kareem Elgazzar,

The Cincinnati Bengals will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at 1 p.m. The game will be broadcast on FOX.

Cincinnati enters 4-3, coming off a 45-10 loss at the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bucs are 3-3 after a 26-23 overtime win against the Cleveland Browns.

Here’s a look at three keys to Sunday’s game and our predictions:

Three keys

Stars gotta star: For weeks we’ve wondered: Who is going to step up and help A.J. Green? With injuries mounting and tight end going from a position of strength turned to weakness, the Bengals need their two best offensive weapons, Green and running back Joe Mixon, to carry more than their share of the load this week. Whatever the grand offensive plans for Tyler Eifert and/or three-tight-end sets were, they’re shot for the short term. This weekend, the Bengals need their best players to play at their best, and the offense can regroup during the off week. 

Defending diverse weapons: The Buccaneers have played from behind and in a number of high-scoring games, leading to wild passing stats among a diverse group of receivers. DeSean Jackson can get over the top. Mike Evans is big and physical. Chris Godwin is coming into his own in his second year in the league. O.J. Howard is a wideout in a tight end’s body. The Bengals’ cornerbacks will travel against the Bucs, with William Jackson III taking on DeSean Jackson and Dre Kirkpatrick in line to cover Evans. The Bengals linebackers’ struggles in coverage is well documented. How will they and the safeties hold up against Howard?

Get home: Building off the first two keys: The Bengals need stars to star and to slow the Bucs’ passing attack. That’s a good platform for the defensive line on Sunday. Notably Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins and Carl Lawson need to make Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston uncomfortable, more than they did against Ben Roethlisberger and Patrick Mahomes the past two weeks. The Bucs have allowed 15 sacks on the season, middle of the road in the league, but the Cleveland Browns sacked Winston four times, hurried him 13 times and hit him five others last week.

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Paul Dehner Jr.:  The Bengals are banged up. They are reeling coming off back-to-back losses on prominent national stages. Their offense is regressing. Their defense is giving up miles of yardage. Everyone pumping them up early in the season is beating them down following the prime-time blowout in Kansas City.

Fact about me: I love the wounded-animal theory. I love it even more in the NFL. I love it exponentially more at home against a wretched Buccaneers defense. I’m buying the stewing Bengals this week. They’ve responded well to adversity in games all year and I think they have the right stuff to show off that trait from week to week. I’m buying the team having a complete understanding about the importance of this game in the big picture and jumping from 5-3 entering the bye instead of 4-4, losers of three straight and washing out all the goodwill of the season’s first month. Overcoming the injury bug will be part of this equation, but Tampa’s struggling secondary, and a refocus on the run game, can go a long way to offsetting that. Traditionally, this team plays well the moment they are counted out and I think it shows up again this week. Bengals win, cover and salvage big-picture success of the season’s first half, setting the stage to make a push for the division coming back on the flip side.

PREDICTION: Bengals 37, Bucs 24

Fletcher Page: This isn’t the Steelers. And this isn’t prime time. 

But this is a really important game for the Bengals, who need a win going into the off week to set up a favorable second-half of the season.

I’m taking the over and expect a pile of points put up in this one. This seems like the set-up each week: two struggling defenses, two offenses likely to engage in trading touchdowns to an exciting end. 

Last week the Bengals offense didn’t show up against the Chiefs. Don’t bet on that happening again. Not at home. 

The key questions, from my perspective, are: Can Joe Mixon get going to help A.J. Green and balance this offense? And, how much damage do Tampa Bay’s offensive weapons do after the catch against the Bengals’ defense? 

If Joe gets going and Green does his thing, the Bengals can outscore the Bucs and put the past two losses behind them and get right during the bye week.

PREDICTION: Bengals 31, Bucs 28