It’s been an up-and-down year for the defending AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals, who sit 6-4 through 10 regular season games, but a recent stretch of better play and the return of Ja’Marr Chase coming as soon as this Sunday against the Titans has ESPN Insider Dan Graziano very high on the team.
In fact, Graziano believes the Bengals are the most dangerous team in the entire AFC.
“They still have Burrow,” Graziano wrote. “They still have the memory of last January/February. They still have Chase coming back at some point soon. Cincinnati still has an uphill climb as a result of heartbreaking early-season losses to Pittsburgh, Dallas, and Baltimore, but they have the ability and the self-belief to do the climbing. They might not catch the Ravens in the division. They might not have enough to go to Kansas City and win in the playoffs again this season. But no one’s going to be comfortable having the Bengals in contention until someone knocks them out.
“And Sunday’s victory over an admittedly substandard Pittsburgh team showed that. You can laugh all you want about the Steelers, but the history between these two teams is real, and it’s painful for Cincinnati. It doesn’t matter how tough it might be — beating the Steelers tells you things are good right now with the Bengals.”
Since starting the season 0-2 with losses to the Steelers and Cowboys, the Bengals are 6-2 and over its last five games, Cincy is 4-1, including a road win last week in Pittsburgh over the Steelers and has scored at least 30 points in all four of its victories. Two of those big offense performances came without Chase.
While Graziano may be right about the Bengals being the AFC’s most dangerous team, there’s still plenty of business to take care of for the team to get to the playoffs and prove it.
The Bengals sit one game behind the Baltimore Ravens (7-3) for first place in the AFC North and thanks to the New York Jets loss to the New England Patriots, currently would be in line to secure the No. 7 seed in a wild AFC playoff picture
Cincinnati owns the tiebreaker over the Jets (6-4), who it beat head-to-head earlier this season and also owns the tiebreaker with the Miami Dolphins (7-3) thanks to a head-to-head victory in the event Miami falls out of first place in the AFC East and ends up with the same record as the Bengals.
In the next two weeks, the Bengals will face the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans (7-3) and AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs (8-2). Both of those two teams don’t appear as if they’ll factor into the wild card race, but two losses could severely hurt Cinncinant’s playoff chances.
Later in the year, the Bengals have a critical road trip to New England to take on a 6-4 Patriots team that currently holds the No. 6 seed in the AFC Playoff Picture and will host the Buffalo Bills, who at 7-3 are currently the No. 5 seed in the AFC.
The Bengals also have another meeting with Baltimore, a matchup with the NFC South-leading Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Cleveland Browns who beat Cincinnati by 19 points earlier this season still on the schedule.
Thus, if the Bengals can navigate through a daunting schedule and still get to the playoffs, they’ll certainly back Graziano’s case.