CINCINNATI -- We'll keep the focus in this post-Thanksgiving edition of the Cincinnati Bengals mailbag on a subject matter far too many of you have asked about in recent weeks.
I'll preface this by saying that the Bengals have long been known for protecting player injury information as if it were the gold in Fort Knox. And when it comes to tight end Tyler Eifert this season, they've been particularly hush-hush. He has been, too. Everything you've read to this point about him either here or elsewhere is all the Bengals and Eifert have allowed on the mysterious injury that has kept him shelved a lot longer than was originally anticipated.
With that, let's get to your questions about the second-year tight end:
@ColeyHarvey: Yes, self-proclaimed CEO of Who Dey Nation, I would give Eifert a chance. How great of a chance, though? That's the biggest question, and a number I'm not so sure about. Right now, it's looking like he won't come back this season. There have been rumors about Eifert packing it in and focusing on rehabbing his elbow and possibly the shoulder that was so problematic in the offseason. But they haven't been confirmed and Eifert hasn't broached the topic when asked to speak with reporters. For the record, he's avoided interview requests, as has become the norm for players with serious injuries.
Assuming these rumors don't come to fruition, why do I think there is a slight chance he'll return? Well, for starters, coach Marvin Lewis keeps saying he will. Do I believe him? Not fully. After all, linebacker Vontaze Burfict 's injury has taken longer to heal than was previously expected and Marvin Jones ' injury turned into a season-ender when it wasn't supposed to. In addition to Lewis anticipating Eifert's return, there's also the fact the team hasn't formally moved him to the season-ending injured reserve. Technically, Eifert already is on IR, but he was placed under the short-term designation. Since he's been eligible to return all month, he could have been moved off the IR, but he wasn't. Perhaps that's a sign he could come back?
@ColeyHarvey % chance we have seeing Eifert in December?— Nathan (@RunnerOH_nma) November 28, 2014
@ColeyHarvey: Segueing into this question, the answer is the same as the one above: minuscule. As the weeks keep going by without him doing on-field rehab and conditioning, it's looking more and more unlikely that he'll make it back in the regular season. That would mean, using Lewis' comments that Eifert is "progressing," if he were to return, perhaps it could happen in the playoffs. But even then, would the Bengals risk adding a piece they haven't needed all year? While Eifert played well briefly before getting lost in the middle of the season opener, the offense has still done well without him, factoring in the Bengals' 7-3-1 record so far.
Jermaine Gresham has steadily improved as a pass-catcher during the season, and he's been an effective blocker, too. With two strong running backs, a pair of solid receivers and a good blocking H-back, they haven't needed much other help at the skill positions. "If it ain't broke ..." That's why I'd have a tough time seeing Eifert get added just for the playoffs, particularly if the offense keeps rolling without him. So if he's going to make any kind of return, it had better happen sooner rather than later. But remember, there's only four games in December, and he's got quite a bit of work yet to get back into the daily rotation.
@ColeyHarvey: "Setback" might not be the best word. A better phrase might simply be "slow recovery." That appears to be what's going on with Vontaze Burfict and that balky knee he had arthroscopic surgery on just before the Week 9 game against the Jaguars. The procedure was intended to clean out particles inside the knee that could have been problematic if he tried to continue playing on it, as he once had hoped. It's hard to tell why he hasn't gotten back to practice, but a cursory glance at his still slightly hobbled gait makes it apparent that he probably couldn't play a complete game. It is strange, though, because we are now five weeks removed from his surgery, and typically athletes can make it back from such procedures within three weeks. But remember, this was the first surgical procedure of any kind that Burfict had, and perhaps his body just hasn't quite figured out how to bounce back from it. We'll keep watching him, but it's safe to say the Bengals and Burfict are taking things slowly until he's comfortable about returning and playing a full 60-minute game again.
@ColeyHarvey: One thing I've learned covering sports (and no, this isn't cliche coachspeak here) is that there is no such thing as an easy win. Winning is hard. Preparation is the most difficult part of it. That said, this is a very good division this seasons. All four teams are tough. A sweep of the Steelers obviously would be huge in regard to getting the Bengals a second straight division title, but they have to focus on beating the Browns in a couple weeks, too. Not one of those games is a guaranteed victory. Even Sunday's game at 2-9 Tampa Bay isn't guaranteed. This is the NFL, where automatic wins don't exist.
@ColeyHarvey Bengals swept Baltimore, do you think it will be easier or harder to sweep Pittsburgh— eden hazard (@GonJarland) November 28, 2014