Sunday afternoon, the Cincinnati Bengals had a miraculous come-from-behind home victory over the Miami Dolphins. The Bengals scored 27 unanswered points in the second half sparked by two defensive touchings from their three total takeaways. This fight until the end mentality for Cincinnati did not just emerge last Sunday; we saw it week 1 against the Colts, and again in week 4 in Atlanta. Additionally, the Bengals have the #1 red zone offense to go along with the 4th best scoring offense in the league. So, should we expect the Bengals to win the AFC North this year? I believe so.
Usually, the AFC North is one of the premier divisions in the AFC, often producing two playoff teams. Sadly, this year is a complete 180.
Lets start with Cincinnati’s kryptonite, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh is simply not the same without Le’Veon Bell. Sure, James Conner has shown flashes of being an elusive running back, but he’s no Bell, and frankly, no one is. Bell’s most valuable trait is his ability to catch the ball better than nearly every running back in the NFL. Take that away from Big Ben and that immediately limits his options and takes away the “plan B” under pressure. The Bengals should have no problem against the Steelers, especially offensively.
The Bengals have shown that they can handle the tricky Baltimore Ravens, defeating them 34-23 in week 2; but the rematch in Baltimore will be different. For anyone who watched the first meeting, Cincinnati should have run away with the game, and the score makes it seem closer than it really was. Baltimore, however; is a place that Marv and the boys have struggled in the past. The Ravens have a phenomenal defense filled with veteran playmakers, which takes plenty of pressure off Joe Flacco and the offense. This game should be a lot closer, as well as the second meeting between the Bengals and the Browns.
The Bengals-Browns “Battle of Ohio” should not be much of a game in Cincinnati, but in Cleveland, the Browns could hold their own. Now, the Browns are still the Browns, but they did beat the Ravens and are showing signs of being an improving football team nonetheless. The main difference between Cincinnati and Cleveland is simple: the Browns can not close out football games, and that weakness was on center stage week 4 against the Raiders. Again, the Bengals have found a way week in and week out to close out, and comeback, a characteristic found in champion-winning teams.
The Bengals cover all aspects of the game and have all the right pieces: a high-powered offense with a quarterback on fire; a star-studded receiving corps and an improved offensive line; a young, electric secondary; and a strong, veteran defensive line. This was a season where players needed to step up, and Andy Dalton and Tyler Boyd are the two most notable. Dalton has shown moments of excellence early this season, especially in his game winning drive against the Falcons. Dalton has also been able to escape the pocket extremely well, with some help from the offensive line, who has only allowed six sacks so far. Tyler Boyd is on track to be the best compliment to the All-Pro AJ Green in his career, and the duo is on pace to become Cincinnati’s second receiver pair to both surpass 1000 yards in a single season.
Cincinnati has been known as the team to choke in the playoffs, but what makes this team different is their resiliency. The Bengals have the right pieces and right mentality to finally do something not only this season, but seasons to come.