There were some with prominent national football coverage platforms who figured the Cincinnati Bengals would be engaging in a fire sale, of sorts, at this point in the 2021 season. However, many others who decided to look at the team more closely saw something that could resemble a playoff team, if things completely fell into place.
Well, fast-forward to Week 8 and those Bengals somehow sit atop the AFC playoff picture. And, signs of them slowing down aren’t prevalent for at least this week, as they square-off against the struggling Jets.
New York is where the Bengals were the past two seasons. A new head coach, grabbing a new quarterback and finding the right locker room fits are what Robert Saleh has been tasked with this year. While there has been excitement with Zach Wilson, he’ll be unavailable this week, taking some of the excitement out of this contest pitting 2021 No. 2 overall pick against 2020’s No. 1 selection.
It hasn’t gone as envisioned in Saleh’s first season, with injuries, coaching decision questions and a lack of overall talent plague the rookie head coach’s inaugural campaign. Sound familiar?
On the opposite sideline, Zac Taylor’s vision is finally bearing fruit. After netting just six wins and a tie in the first two seasons, his staff has “their guys” and is finally on the right side of the injury report.
The result? A potential Rookie of the Year campaign from Ja’Marr Chase, an NFL Comeback Player of the Year bid from Joe Burrow and some solid coaching excerpts from the triumvirate of Taylor, Lou Anarumo and Brian Callahan.
Is it weird that the Bengals have suddenly become a beacon of NFL rebuilding success?
Last week, Cincinnati propelled themselves into media darling status with their huge win over the Ravens. It came on the heels of other statement wins, like the Week 3 domination of Pittsburgh at Heinz Field.
And, as they step into the limelight, they also take a chance at potential embarrassment. Cincinnati is two-possession favorite against the J-E-T-S this Sunday, in a trick-or-treat matchup in the Big Apple.
In a way, this utterly reeks of a trap game for the Bengals. It’s their third-straight road game, while coming off of an emotional divisional win and seeing the first 2021 “Battle of Ohio” matchup on the horizon.
A 1-5 walk in Central Park?
It all seems stacked up that way for the Bengals, but with Halloween hitting the calendar and the proverbial “trap game” looming, this one has a statement of its own for Cincinnati. In short, they can’t let this one slip away for a number of implications.
Mike White comes in for Wilson, who has one game of pro experience under his belt, and it was in relief for the injured rookie a couple of weeks ago. He had one touchdown against two interceptions, but now has an off-week of study to prepare for this one.
These variables negatively play into the minds of we cynics who have watched, rooted for and even covered the team for any significant amount of time. Names like T.J. Yates and Bryan Hoyer dance in our heads.
However, if you’ve watched, seen and heard this year’s Bengals squad, success, however fleeting, is not going to their heads. Burrow is the leader of this team and if we are to take heed to his press conference words this week, the Bengals won’t be overlooking the Jets this week.
Some believe this is a game wherein many of the quieter Bengals “pad the stats” in a blowout win. While I believe that to some degree, this may be a pedestrian effort, with an emphasis on defense and running the football—two keys to refine with Cleveland on deck.
Usually, we’d talk “X’s and O’s”, as well as individual matchups, but with the Jets so banged up, those would ring hollow. Sunday is about the Bengals taking care of business and rounding out rough areas, as they continue their divisional and conference pushes.
For Cincinnati, this week is not only a tune-up game, but also another section on the 2021 test docket. Continuing to handle business in the midst of early success will be a key indicator for their potential future success.
In terms of injuries, Cincinnati is pretty healthy, for the most part. The Jets are missing their starting quarterback and likely Corey Davis, a prized free agent acquisition.
The Bengals have laid a bunch of building blocks, ranging from young players maturing more rapidly than thought, to recent free agency acquisitions paying off. While it’s a “cake walk” game, these are some of the ones that can stick out like sore thumbs without the proper mindset and preparation.
In New York’s eyes, they are clamoring for something positive in which this regime can build upon. A win against a rising AFC force with a backup quarterback will give immediate credence to the vision of the new regime.
We’re going to place belief into the character of this Bengals locker room for now, as well as the perceived “gleam in the eye” from many of Cincinnati’s VIPs. Cincinnati will take care of business in a fairly mundane affair as they get set for Baker Mayfield’s Browns next week.
Bengals 27, Jets 13