Cincinnati Bengals: 10 wins – 7 losses, AFC North champions, fourth in AFC
The formation of Cincinnati is one of the big surprises of the season. Promised once again to the bottom of the standings, the Tigers took advantage of the bad fortunes of their division opponents and the emergence of a new generation to climb to the top of the conference.
With their ticket for the post-season validated and the crown of the AFC North screwed on the forehead, the Bengals can approach the playoffs with confidence: whatever the results, the year 2021 is already a success. . And fans are hoping that she just foreshadows a bright future.
How did they get there?
Faced with a difficult schedule, the Bengals have perfectly negotiated their start to the season. With a comfortable accounting lead at mid-campaign, they were able to absorb two slumps between weeks 8 and 14 without too many consequences. The convincing end of the year, especially against Kansas City, ensured a historic qualification for the tiger formation.
But it was above all the grip on the division that was crucial for Cincinnati to join the elite of the league. By winning all the confrontations against Baltimore and Pittsburgh, the Bengals have guaranteed themselves a decisive advantage to win the North pool and (re)discover the festivities of January.
The key player: Zac Taylor (HC)
The end of the Marvin Lewis era marked a complete rebuilding of the team. Now, the workforce is one of the youngest in the NFL, and what it has gained in talent it has lost in experience. Freshly arrived in the league, unaccustomed to the peaks, the Bengals will mainly discover the playoffs. And the setbacks against the Jets, the Bears or the Browns have shown that everything is not yet in place.
Hopes of success will therefore rest on coach Zac Taylor to direct, supervise and use his men to the best of their ability. Criticized since his arrival by some of the fans for his starving results, the Cincinnati technician has the opportunity to end an unexpected year very well and to mark the history of his organization.
Why are they going to go all the way?
After years of wanderings, the remodeling of the Ohio franchise looks like a success. A good positioning on the free market and strategic choices in the draft are finally paying dividends. Now, Cincinnati’s offensive squad is unpredictable, explosive and hot. With weapons like Joe Burrow (QB), Joe Mixon (RB), Tyler Boyd (WR), Tee Higgins (WR) and especially the fantastic rookie Ja’Marr Chase (WR), the Bengals can score a lot, anytime. , and from anywhere.
They also revealed mental qualities at the end of the season. By the victory-declaration against the Chiefs, the tigers have shown that they have the capacity to hang on, come back and impose themselves against the best the NFL can offer. They are intriguing challengers in these series.
Why won’t they go?
The weak points of the team projected at the beginning of the year have been generally confirmed. In defense, the second curtain does not shine and the rear guard at its moments of feverishness. On offense, the line has improved but remains crumbly, and the group tends to live and die by big plays. Limitations that could be expensive.
Moreover, how can we forget the heavy tradition that the franchise maintains with the playoffs? The last success of the tigers in the playoffs dates back to 1991. Thirty years. The (knee) ghosts of Carson Palmer, Andy Dalton and Vontaze Burfict haunt the spans of Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals have been fortunate to be relatively spared major injuries and COVID this year. The holders have played the campaign and will be available for the playoffs. The team offered a break against Cleveland last week, and has just recovered Quinton Spain (OG), Joe Mixon (RB), Vonn Bell (SS), Trey Hendrickson (DE) and Trey Hopkins (C) who have been removed from the COVID reserve list.
There remains the question of Joe Burrow’s knee. Affected at the end of the game against the Chiefs, the quarterback is not seriously injured according to Zac Taylor. Yet the young pitcher carries the hopes of his club and the fans. And these keep a bitter memory of the disappointments of another illustrious number 9 of the franchise.
Cincinnati has the opportunity to erase eight straight playoff losses and three decades of drought, the longest running streak in the NFL. At home, the supporters will demand victory, nothing less. Faced with a Las Vegas team with a fairly comparable profile (average defense and attack focused on the pass), the Bengals will have to be diligent and not collapse under the weight of the event. The Tigers should be favorites for this inaugural round, but the little perspective they offer on their real level does not allow any certainty for the future.