Entering Week 10, no NFL team has been harder to get a read on than the Cincinnati Bengals.
Sitting at 3-4-1, no one seems to be quite sure if this is a legitimate title contender, a bottom-feeder, or just another average team in a season full of them. The Bengals are one game from leading the AFC North or having a top-five pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, so it’s easy to see why no one can really tell what this Bengals team really is.
It looks like ESPN thinks Cincy is still a legit contender, as evidenced by a five-spot rise to the No. 8 spot in their most recent rankings.
8. Cincinnati Bengals
2016 record: 3-4-1 | Week 9 ranking: 13
42.1: The Bengals got off to a slow start this season, partially because of an inability to convert red zone drives into touchdowns. They scored a touchdown on only 42.1 percent of red zone drives in their first six games.
83.3: However, since tight end Tyler Eifert's return, the Bengals are converting 83.3 percent of their red zone drives into touchdowns. This should bode well for Cincy down the stretch.
SB Nation also bumped up the Bengals two spots up to the No. 10 ranking. It’s clear Cincinnati’s five-straight playoff berths are still giving them a lot of respect around the NFL.
However, the love ends there as every other outlet dropped the Bengals in their latest rankings. Yahoo Sports only dropped Cincy one spot down to No. 18.
18. Cincinnati Bengals (3-4-1, Last Week: 17)
The Bengals could decide soon to activate rookie cornerback William Jackson III, the team’s first-round pick, off injured reserve. He and linebacker Nick Vigil, another rookie, could give a stagnant defense a boost the rest of the way.
USA Today also dropped Cincinnati just one spot coming out of the bye week.
16. Cincinnati Bengals (3-4-1, Last Week: 15)
As A.J. Green goes, so goes Cincinnati, undefeated when he has 100 receiving yards. He's on pace for 1,792 yards, 352 more than team record.
CBS Sports actually dropped the Bengals down five spots while adding some positivity about the upcoming schedule. It’s hard to do nothing and still move down five spots, especially with the AFC North outcomes in Week 9.
20. Cincinnati Bengals (3-4-1, Last Week: 15)
Bengals They had a tough schedule before their bye, and it softens some in the second half. They are still in the race, even with the slow start.
NFL.com dropped Cincinnati down to the No. 21 spot,
21. Cincinnati Bengals, Last Week: 19
Bengals moved down, even on a bye, due to a formidable defensive showing by the Ravens and the Dolphins' third straight win. While Cincy bested the latter earlier in the season, Marvin Lewis' group is 1-2-1 over its last four games. Cincinnati appears to be heading straight to the proverbial 8-8 -- although with the tie, that won't be possible. (How about 7-7-2?)
If last year's division champs are to repeat, then the Steelers losing was a good start. Like Cincy's chances of catching Baltimore better than catching Pittsburgh, especially considering the Bengals already lost at Heinz. I've heard many people point to Hue Jackson's departure being a reason for the lackluster campaign. That thought is not without merit; last year, the Bengals scored the seventh-most points in the league. This year? 21st, just like their ranking.
Overall, the Bengals finished with an average ranking of 15.5, which is a very small dip from last week’s 15.2 mark. It’s funny because, while there is no consistency among these rankings, Cincinnati still sports an average ranking that perfectly fits a 3-4-1 team. There’s no reason for this team to be ranked in the top 10, but there’s also little reason for them to be into the 20s.
Looking at the rest of the AFC North, the Steelers managed to drop below the Bengals in several rankings, but did just enough to finish with an average of 14.8, less than one full spot ahead of Cincinnati.
But while the Steelers dropped big time, the Ravens took a big jump following their home win over Pittsburgh. Baltimore now sports an average ranking of 17.7, two spots behind the Bengals and three spots behind the Steelers.
The Browns are 0-9 and remain the NFL’s worst team, not to mention having the NFL’s worst average ranking of 31.8. This week, Cleveland faces Baltimore on Thursday Night Football before facing Pittsburgh in Week 11 and the New York Giants in Week 12. They get then get a rare, late Week 13 bye.
It will be a major surprise if they’re not 0-12 when they host the Bengals in Week 14.