Bengals competing in AFC North one of biggest surprises of 2021

Cincinnati Bengals. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Cincinnati Bengals. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

The Cincinnati Bengals are just full of surprises this year, but this one is a double whammy.

Few expected the Bengals to pull off an upset against Green Bay, but even fewer could have predicted their success in 2021.

Maurice Moton of Bleacher Report listed the Bengals as one of the biggest surprises of the season, but not necessarily for the reason you expect.

The most surprising part of Cincinnati’s season isn’t that they’re “competitive” in the AFC North, sitting in second after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The most surprising part is that Cincinnati is competitive in spite of their “middling offense.”

"Cincinnati is being led by edge-rusher Trey Hendrickson and defensive tackle B.J. Hill, who have recorded a combined 7.5 sacks and six tackles for loss. The Bengals are allowing the 10th-fewest rushing yards per game leaguewide (101.4), which has helped make up for their middling offense."

Somewhere in the 2021 offseason, the Bengals’ defense got good. Cincinnati ranked 25th and 22nd in points allowed in the last two years, but this year, they rank seventh in the league.

Surprise! Cincinnati Bengals are legitimate competitors in AFC North

It’s their defense that has buoyed them to early season victories rather than the dynamic sure-firing offense everyone was talking about in preseason. Joe Burrow has been exceptional considering he’s just returning from injury, and Ja’Marr Chase has quieted his critics with his record-breaking rookie performances through five weeks.

Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd have shined as well, but the Bengals’ offense ranks 18th in the league in scoring and haven’t yet scored more than 27 points in a game.

Instead, Cincinnati have won in the least probable of ways: steadfast, resolute defense.

The Bengals were one kick away from going 4-1 to start the season, but they have to be satisfied with their efforts even if they didn’t get the result they wanted. It’s a cliché as old as the first sports game ever played, but the Bengals dazzled with some of their most entertaining football on Sunday.

And Cincinnati were only able to make the game that close due to their defense stepping up against Aaron Rodgers and a mighty Packers offensive unit.

So many Bengals games in years prior have been ruined by blowouts, with players on both sides of the ball looking dejected as they play through meaningless quarters.

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Those days are gone for now. The Bengals are on track to becoming legitimate playoff contenders in 2021 and they have their defense, not offense, to thank for it. Who could have predicted that?