The last time someone could say the Cincinnati Bengals were the best team in the AFC North was in 2015, the last time the Bengals won the division title.
Now that Week 8 is coming this week, the same Cincinnati Bengals, who picked number one overall last year, are sitting pretty at the top of the AFC North, at 5-2. Oh, they also just shellacked the Baltimore Ravens, 41-17, and the Ravens were considered a top-10 team until last week.
Needless to say, the Bengals are no slouches this year. Their rise has was unexpected, to say the least, and at this point, it might seem a little inflated. But the Bengals are contenders, not pretenders. For a Super Bowl? No, but most definitely for a playoff spot. At this point in the season, it would be a surprise if the Cincinnati Bengals did not make the playoffs. Who would have thought that could be true in 2020?
The Cincinnati Bengals Will Make the Playoffs
“It’s a different team…We’ve done a lot of different things to get to this position, and I’ve given out a lot of tough speeches over time about great things to come and [to] keep working…That’s the foundation of what we’re building, and this is the result. This is (our) moment… Everything we’ve talked about, we’ve earned.”
Zac Taylor, the Cincinnati Bengals head coach, was clearly proud of his team following their dominating win over the Ravens. He knows that the Bengals have earned their wins and that they have to keep stacking wins, especially if they want to make the playoffs. It starts with the offense and ends with the defense. Both are exceeding expectations, but none more than the defense.
The Cincinnati Bengals Defense is much better than expected
The Bengals defense has allowed just 128 points, the third-best seven-game start for a Bengals defense in this century behind only the 2005 AFC North champs (111), the 2011 Wild Card Bengals (123), and tied with 2009 AFC North champs. After the 41-17 victory in Baltimore, the defense ranked tenth after the Monday night game and fifth in points allowed.
That’s pretty darn good for a defense that was expected to finish outside of the top 16, considering how they finished last year when they were a bottom-5 defense.
“I definitely think it was just a great job by the defensive staff putting us in positions to make plays… The players at the end of the day obviously have to go out there and play so credit those guys in the linebacking corps… We have unselfish guys who want to do what’s best for the team.”
The defense is playing unselfishly and is a dangerous group because of it.
The Offense; Ja’Maar Chase and Joe Burrow are Unstoppable
Surprisingly, or not depending on your point of view, the offense has been explosive this year. The offense averages 27 points per game, good for seventh-best in the league. With a 6.2 yards-per-play average, good for 3rd-best in the NFL, and the 5th-most scoring red zone offense at 71 percent, it’s not hard to see why.
Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Burrow‘s chemistry are the driving force behind their success, with the former college teammates connecting 35 times for 754 yards and six touchdowns. Chase is on pace to have the greatest rookie receiver season of all time, and Burrow is only going to keep throwing him the ball.
His connection was compared to that of Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, who had the greatest six-year stretch in NFL history for a quarterback-receiver duo.
“We have a lot of reps accumulated over the last three or four years. We’ve been together for a long time. I’ve been dealing with him on Saturdays since I was 21 years old, so that’s what happens when you get all those reps accumulated. You understand the kinds of throws against leverage. You know the (Ravens) were playing on top and press and so that’s what opened up the back shoulder balls today and we’ve thrown back shoulders for the last three years and thrown them over and over and over again and that’s what it takes to feel confident in those kinds of throws. It’s just reps and reps and reps.”
The offense has weapons everywhere. Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins are all above-average receivers, and until Chase’s arrival, had been a force in the passing game. The emergence of C.J. Uzomah was unexpected, and only makes the Bengals offense that much more unpredictable. Oh, and Joe Mixon is still running the ball for the Bengals, and he’s pretty good at the game of football.
34-17 thanks to @Joe_MainMixon!
Watch on CBS pic.twitter.com/YCOHzaici2
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) October 24, 2021
The Bengals Schedule Will Boost Them to the Playoffs
The Cincinnati Bengals have five games on their schedule that they will be favored in, at least. They play the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Las Vegas Raiders, and Denver Broncos. The Jets and Broncos games should be no-contest wins. The Bengals have already beat the Steelers and are the better team right now.
The Raiders could provide a challenge, but are so up-and-down that the Bengals should be able to come away with a win. The Bengals also play the Los Angles Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, the Browns twice, and once more against the Ravens. The Bengals just demolished the Ravens, and the Chiefs are no world-beater, at least not currently.
The Browns might be their toughest challenge, and the Bengals could very well lose both games. Even if the Bengals split with the division, losing to the Steelers, Browns once, and Ravens, that would put their record at 6-5. Add wins against the Raiders, Jets, Broncos, and Raiders, and the record sits at 10-5. At that point, they will have a wild card spot locked up, and could afford another loss, though they might need another win.
11-6 will get them into the playoffs, and 10-7 might too unless the AFC suddenly gets more competitive. And who’s to say the Bengals don’t sweep the Steelers and Browns, and pull off an upset win against the Chargers or Chiefs?
Stranger things have happened, and the Bengals are nothing if not surprising this season. From last place to the playoffs in one year, what the Bengals are doing is impressive. No one saw this coming, not by a mile, but here the Bengals are.
And if they make the Playoffs? As the saying goes: “anything can happen.”