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Anything is possible for 3-4-1 Bengals

A division crown, or a shot at a game-changing prospect like Derek Barnett? The Bengals have the fortune of still being in contention for either the playoffs, or, a top 10 draft pick.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Texas A&M Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals are in a rare spot entering the second half of the regular season.

Sitting at 3-4-1, Cincinnati has done just enough to stay within striking distance of the AFC North crown, though it’s more due to Pittsburgh and Baltimore failing to separate themselves at 4-4.

In fact, the division as a whole is 3-13-1 since Week 5, which includes Cincinnati going 1-2-1 during that span with their only win being at home over now 0-9 Cleveland.

So while it’s good to see Cincinnati is still in the thick of the division race, it’s also been painfully clear this is one of the ‘worst’ Bengals teams we’ve seen during the last five seasons, all five of which yielded trips to the playoffs.

There aren’t many things this team does great, and they had more weaknesses than strengths over the first eight games, hence the losing record.

That is why one has to wonder if the Bengals are closer to a rebuild than being a legitimate playoff team. It just so happens that Cincinnati is within striking distance of a high draft pick that could aid in a quick rebuilding effort that has them back in contention next year.

With only three wins thus far, the Bengals are actually just a half of a game away from being tied with the Panthers, Rams, and Buccaneers at 3-5 for the sixth-worst record in the NFL.

That means had Cincinnati not escaped London with a tie to Washington thanks to Dustin Hopkins missed gimme, they’d be in position to hold the No. 6 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Going further, had Mike Nugent not hit a game-winning field goal in New York to open the season, the Bengals would be 2-5-1, which could have them holding the No. 5 pick entering Week 5.

Top five picks can turn a franchise around very fast. The Bengals know this very well as A.J. Green was part of the Bengals doing just that. The No. 4 pick in the 2011 draft is a big reason why Cincinnati has made five straight playoff trips, and if they make it six, he’ll be the MVP of this team’s push toward doing so.

To think this Bengals team could add a player the caliber of Green to their team is why, even if the Bengals keep struggling, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. The potential of adding a game-changer like Tennessee pass-rusher Derek Barnett could be the spark to get a losing team with a good foundation back into the playoffs.

The Bengals are going to have the core of a playoff team intact next year, regardless of how they finish this season, so adding a player like Barnett, who could be the kind of game-changer on defense that Green became on offense, is what could get this team back to being a contender after a down year.

But at the end of the day, we’d all rather see Cincinnati win the division this year and host a playoff game. The AFC West is so strong that it’s possible three teams in that division make the playoffs and it could be the Chiefs or Broncos who would come to Paul Brown Stadium for a playoff game, if Cincinnati wins the AFC North.

While Denver did beat Cincinnati, that game did not feature a healthy Bengals team with Tyler Eifert and Vontaze Burfict in the lineup. Having those two could have easily been the difference in that Week 3 loss, and it could be that in a Wild Card rematch.

As for the Chiefs, they’re nearly unbeatable at home, but they’ve still been very vulnerable to anyone they’ve played on the road. They had to stave off a comeback from 2-6 Jacksonville thanks to a controversial fumble that may have cost the Jags a win.

A top 5-6 pick in next year’s draft would be nice, but ending two decades of playoff failures sounds much nicer. The Bengals are in a rare position to contend for both into the second half of the regular season. What happens on Monday Night Football against the Giants in Week 10 could dictate how this season plays out. Will the Bengals get back to being over .500 heading into Week 11, or, will they have a better draft positioning in 2017?