Can the Cincinnati Bengals level up when it matters most?
The Cincinnati Bengals are atop the AFC North with two weeks left in the regular season, but the next couple of weeks will be the team’s toughest test yet.
This is the NFL. There are no “easy ones.” Thus, Cheapening the Bengals blowout win over the Ravens last week is unfair. You can only play what’s in front of you.
However, it is more than fair to speculate that bullying a Baltimore team that was down to a practice squad quarterback and a scout team defense is one thing, beating either of the next two opponents to clinch a division title is entirely another.
Trying to cool off the red-hot Chiefs
First, there are the Kansas City Chiefs. The reigning AFC champs have won eight in a row and are averaging almost 40 points per game in their last three games. They are also trying to lock down a first-round bye in the playoffs. KC is favored by 5.5 points over the stripes, per WynnBET.
Josh Johnson had over 300 yards and two touchdowns against the Bengals despite being on Baltimore’s roster for less than two weeks. To say Patrick Mahomes and company are a much stiffer test is the understatement of the century.
The Cincinnati defense will have to raise its level significantly. We saw the unit bother Aaron Rodgers earlier this year so, they are capable of doing it. However, we have also seen enough bad play from the unit to suggest Kansas City might break the scoreboard this Sunday.
The 2021 Bengals defense is the once-troubled student who got their stuff together and had a really nice semester, but the Kansas City offense is the final exam.
Redemption against the Browns?
The Bengals will travel to Cleveland for the regular-season finale. The Browns may or may not have playoff hopes of their own at that point. Regardless, they would very much like to relegate their in-state foes to wildcard status or knock them out of the playoffs altogether.
Cincinnati is playing much better than the Browns right now. They are riding two wins in a row, while Cleveland is trying to rebound after consecutive losses. Their first matchup this year is what should give everyone pause.
The Browns ran for 153 yards and forced three turnovers in a 41-16 drubbing. It was the kind of game that felt like one team has a mental edge over the other. We know what Joe Burrow and the Bengals’ offense can do, but the Browns shut them down once this year and can do it again if Cincy fails to adjust from the first meeting.
Time to find out true ceiling of Bengals
Cincinnati needs just one win in their final two games to clinch an AFC North title. There are scenarios where they can reach the playoffs as a division winner or a wildcard even with two losses to close the regular season, but no one wants to fall back on that.
The next two weeks are about finding out whether the 2021 Bengals are a team that can make the playoffs if things break right or a team that can do damage once they get there.