After Week Ten of the NFL season, the Baltimore Ravens lead the AFC North. A solid start to their season has led to them holding a very strong 6-3 record, and they have an easy second-half schedule to look forward to. This does not bode well for the Cincinnati Bengals, who are themselves 5-4 but are still reeling after an ugly loss to the Cleveland Browns. They have a daunting last several games, which feature matchups against teams like the Chiefs and Ravens. For all the promise the season seemed to have, it might just be too much for the Bengals to overcome. The promising young team will have a hard time making the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl.
That was the story of the Cincinnati Bengals after Week Nine of the 2021 season, and it is the story of the team after the same midseason mark this season. While the paths these two teams have taken are quite different, they find themselves in remarkably similar territory during the bye week. The question marks are not necessarily the same; last year’s team had an offense that covered up some defensive deficiencies, while this year has been the opposite. However, Joe Burrow is also playing better this year than he was at this same time last year, and with the players that Cincinnati could potentially get back at the bye, they could be positioned for another run.
The Bengals Should Not Be Worried About Their Spot In The Standings
There are things working against Cincinnati that will make a Super Bowl run like they had last season difficult. For starters, they are already 0-3 in the division, having lost once to each of their division foes. While they will have a chance to redeem themselves against a struggling Pittsburgh team that will be missing Minkah Fitzpatrick after the bye, they cannot take a road date with the Steelers lightly, and home games against Cleveland and Baltimore will be tough. At this point last year, the Bengals were 2-1 in the division and finished 4-2, a mark they have already guaranteed they will not match again. Their deficiency in divisional games could cost them the AFC North come January.
However, in games outside of the division, the Bengals have arguably been a top-five team in the league. In games not against AFC North foes, they have won by an average of eleven points, with that number being heavily skewed by Baker Mayfield’s barrage of garbage time points in the matchup against Carolina. In addition to their success outside of the division, the Bengals have been in all but one game and are close to being 8-1; a missed PAT against Pittsburgh, a laughable offensive gameplan against Dallas, and an atrocious goal-to-go series against Baltimore led to three of their losses. Despite their 19-point loss against Cleveland, the Bengals are still fifth in the league in point differential at +43.
Bengals Are Positioned To Make Another Run
The Bengals will not be given anything in the last eight games of 2022, as they have one of the toughest schedules in the league to close out the season. They still have to play the current division leader in five of the eight divisions; Kansas City, Buffalo, and Baltimore at home and Tennessee and Tampa Bay on the road. The Steelers may be out of it, but a home game against the Browns with Deshaun Watson at quarterback will certainly test this team, and New England in December will never be easy. However, if you showed Joe Burrow this schedule and asked his thoughts, I would bet he wouldn’t want it any other way.
Last season, the Bengals were looking at a second-half schedule that featured eight teams that were gunning for playoff berths. Four of those teams, the Raiders, Steelers, 49ers, and Chiefs, did make it, while the Chargers, Broncos, Ravens, and Browns narrowly missed out. How did that prepare the Bengals for their eventual Super Bowl run? It kick-started the playoffs a whole eight weeks early, with every game over the last eight being crucial to their stretch run. This year will be no different; if the Bengals can come out of the next eight games with at least five wins and record another ten-win season, they will likely be a playoff team and battle-tested against the league’s best.
Baltimore’s second-half schedule is ridiculously easy, with the Bengals being their only remaining opponent with a winning record. Cincinnati may need to win seven of their final eight if they are to take the division, including winning a division championship against Baltimore in Week Eighteen. It will not be easy; no stretch that requires you to play Kansas City and Buffalo will be. However, the Bengals have dealt with adversity all season, and with Ja’Marr Chase and DJ Reader on their way back from injury, they may be ready to take it on. If Burrow keeps up his MVP-level play, Cincinnati can make another run. After all, they’ve been here before, and it ended in an AFC Championship last time.