Coming off their bye week, the Cincinnati Bengals are about to embark on an eight-game stretch that will answer almost any questions one might have on the state of the franchise.
In a year where there’s not much disparity amongst teams in the AFC, the Bengals have a runway to make their first postseason appearance since 2015. Only five other teams (Bills, Patriots, Titans, Chiefs and Ravens) have more wins than Cincinnati. Five other teams (Colts, Broncos, Raiders, Chargers and Steelers) all sit where the Bengals do with five wins. Seven of the Bengals’ final eight games are against AFC teams and this is important to note because not only does overall record matter when it comes to postseason rankings, but head-to-head records also matter. Meaning, if the Bengals end up with the same record as one of the teams mentioned above and beat that team, they own the tiebreaker.
But in order for the Bengals to even think about being able to play in late January, they need to look more like the team they did the first seven weeks of the season, not the two weeks before the bye. There’s no other way to explain the Bengals’ 5-4 record other than wait and see how it plays out.
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In a lot of ways, Cincinnati’s season really starts now. Given how tight the AFC race is, the Bengals can’t afford to put their destiny in the hands of anyone but themselves. It’s hard to picture an AFC team getting in the playoffs with more than six losses this year. The Bengals sit at 5-4 and as several players and coaches have stated, everything they want to achieve is right in front of them.
Veteran tight end C.J. Uzomah is one of the few players who was on the roster the last time the Bengals made the playoffs. He knows how important playing your best in November and December can be.
“They are going to remember us in December,” Uzomah said. “That’s the we’re going to be a playoff team; make a run mentality you have to have. That’s the mentality I see within this team. The hard-nosed, we’re going to get after you mentality."
The Bengals identity on offense and defense has yet to be on display consistently this year. On offense, Cincinnati wants to win by creating explosive plays a defense simply can’t stop. With the wide receiver trio Joe Burrow has at his disposal, there’s no reason to argue against that philosophy. But at the same time, everything has to go right for an explosive play to be executed flawlessly. Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins dropped a few passes recently and that’s something that needs to be cleaned up. Tyler Boyd needs more touches early in the game, especially on third down. And, Burrow needs time in the pocket to find his receivers.
That’s who the Bengals want to be on offense and if they click on all levels, they are hard to stop on offense.
Defensively, Cincinnati prides themselves on being a solid tackling team, winning up front and that prior to the two-game skid ahead of the bye, was one of best red zone defenses. When the Bengals were getting opponents’ quarterbacks off the spot and affecting the line of scrimmage, teams struggled to move the ball on the Bengals. It appears the rest of the league adjusted to the pressure packages defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo was dialing up and when Cincinnati wasn’t winning up front, the rest of the defense struggled. In order for the Bengals to get back to playing better on defense, it’s going to come down to tackling better, limiting explosive plays by creating more pressure up front and taking the ball away.
The Bengals have shown at times they have the talent across the board to win enough games to get in the postseason this year. Now it’s just a matter of if head coach Zac Taylor’s team can consistently show their identity week in and out.
You’ll learn everything you want to know about these Bengals over the next eight games.