The Bengals kicked off Week 2 by defeating the Ravens and advancing to 2-0. This accomplishment only got better when the Browns and Steelers both lost on Sunday and fell to both boasting the record of 0-1-1. Now Cincinnati is sitting atop the division, and they are starting to get some attention.
In fact, Dan Graziano of ESPN wrote an article examining some overreactions to Week 2 and whether or not they are overreactions or not. In this article, Graziano declared it wasn’t an overreaction that the Bengals are the favorites to win the AFC North.
Not having starting running back Joe Mixon for a game or two will test the Bengals, especially since their next two are on the road in Carolina and Atlanta. And they need to get/keep that offensive line healthy. But (A) who doesn’t?, and (B) who else in that division scares you right now? Everyone expects the Steelers to bounce back, but what if they don’t? There’s a lot of volatility in that locker room, and if things are going to go bad there, they could go really bad. No sign of Le’Veon Bell and a road game coming up against the offensive juggernaut that is the FitzMagic Bucs ... opportunity is there for someone. Why not Marvin Lewis’ widely overlooked bunch?
Graziano makes plenty of realistic points. The Bengals next two games could really define their season, and they will have to do it without Joe Mixon for, at the very least, one of those games. Mixon has been a vital piece for Cincinnati this season, but luckily the Bengals have Giovani Bernard to fall back on. He is a veteran running back who has shouldered the load in absence of Mixon and even Jeremy Hill back in the day when needed.
Bernard hasn’t been very productive this season so far, but it is hard to imagine that Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor won’t be able to add a few more plays to get Bernard out in space during an extended break between games. Not to mention, Cincinnati also has Tra Carson who can help with a few snaps per game. He has always been productive during the preseason, and now he will have a chance to show what he’s got in an actual game.
As far as the offensive line goes, Cincinnati has some depth, but it really matters who gets injured, and who the team decides to replace them. Cordy Glenn at left tackle and Clint Boling at left guard are probably the most crucial players. An injury to either of those guys could hurt the team’s overall production pretty badly. Rookie Billy Price at center is also important, but not to the same extent. That is understandable though considering he is still a rookie getting use to the NFL game, where as the other two are established pros. As far as the right side goes, it is hard to imagine it getting too much worse. Alex Redmond at right guard and Bobby Hart at right tackle improved in Week 2, but it was easy to improve after a bad start in Week 1.
Finally, we come to Graziano’s biggest point, which is that the Steelers could easily implode after their 0-1-1 start. It feels like a different team out there. They just got steam rolled by the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes’ six touchdown passes. Not to mention who knows when Le’Veon Bell will return, if he does at all. How Pittsburgh bounces back could easily determine if the Bengals run away with the division.
Of course these two teams will meet in Week 6. Cincinnati will hopefully have Mixon and Vontaze Burfict back on the field for that game. Until then the Bengals will play the Panthers, Falcons and Dolphins, which sounds like a good run of games to show whether this team is for real or not. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh will suit up against the Bucs, Ravens and Falcons before heading into Cincinnati for a showdown in the jungle.
It is great to see the national media actually taking the Bengals’ side for once. It has been a long time since Cincinnati was viewed as the darling of the AFC North, and we can only hope the Bengals keep rolling and gaining even more respect.