After an 0-2 start, history didn’t appear to work in the favor of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Granted, many of the past 0-2 teams played in seasons with just 16 games and one less playoff participant per conference, but it’s still a tough hole for anyone to dig out of.
As the first month of the NFL season has come to a close, there are eight teams in the AFC alone that sit with an 2-2 record, including the Bengals following their two-game winning streak. With over half of the conference sitting at .500, one would assume one or two of these teams can right the ship and make the postseason.
NFL.com’s Adam Schein recently released his contenders or pretenders to break down which teams can still make noise in January. After all of the last-second heartbreak to begin the season, Schein still believes in the Bengals.
You have to jog the mental rolodex to recall the random factor that buried Cincinnati in the Week 1 loss to Pittsburgh. Do you remember what it was? An injury to the long snapper. Admittedly, Joe Burrow could have played much better — you don’t win many games when your quarterback turns the ball over five times — but snapping snafus late in regulation and in overtime doomed a pair of would-be game-winning kicks for the Bengals. That’s a tough way to go down. Then, Week 2 at Dallas, Cincy lost at the gun.
There are no moral victories in the NFL. “Almost got it done” simply doesn’t matter. Those two games are losses for the Bengals, but Schein sees how close to being 4-0 this team actually is.
Over the past two weeks, though, the Bengals have taken care of business against the Jets and Dolphins, beating both by double digits. During this span, Burrow has looked much more like the guy who magically led Cincinnati to the Super Bowl eight months ago, posting a 5:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 115.4 passer rating. Crucially, the offensive line has kept Burrow upright; after giving up a whopping 13 sacks in the first two weeks, the Bengals have yielded just three in the past two. Meanwhile, the defense has been pretty consistent in the early goings of the 2022 campaign, but the unit has especially tightened up in the team’s two wins, with Trey Hendrickson logging 2.5 sacks against New York and Vonn Bell nabbing two picks vs. Miami.
As we’ve seen over the last two weeks, the offense appears to be finding their way. There is certainly a lot of room for improvement, but the unit has come a long way from the Week 1 turnover party against the Steelers.
With improvements still needed in both phases of the offense, especially in the running game, the Bengal offense isn’t near their full capabilities at this point. With play calling and protection still in question at times, a few tweaks can make this team look just like the one who throttled AFC opponents down the stretch of last regular season.
I still take the Bengals over the Ravens, Browns and Steelers in the AFC North and still have the reigning AFC champs as a team that can make serious noise once again in January.
Not only is Schein confident the Bengals make the playoffs, he still believes they can win the AFC North on their way to a playoff berth.
With the entire division losing in Week 4 after the Bengals enjoyed a big conference win, everything is right in front of Cincinnati again. It is on them to go out and take it.