At the time, it seemed laughable to suggest that the Bengals could be a Super Bowl contender. However, with the playoffs clinched and wildcard card weekend on the horizon, the Joe Burrow and Zac Taylor-led Bengals should be viewed as favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
With an AFC North-clinching win over the Kansas City Chiefs by a score of 34-31, the Bengals did what many thought was impossible and put an end to the eight-game winning streak that Patrick Mahomes and company had been on.
In doing so, they became they toppled the hottest team in the conference and took on that role for themselves.
Cincinnati Bengals should be viewed as team to beat in AFC
Looking at the slate of playoff teams in the AFC, there is no team that is clearly better than the rest. Many had given that label to the Chiefs, but with their loss to the Bengals on Sunday, their vulnerabilities were shown.
The Tennessee Titans currently hold the top seed in the AFC, but their frontrunner status will depend on Ryan Tannehill’s ability to go toe-to-toe with the big-time quarterbacks in his conference, a task he may not be up to.
The most threatening non-Chiefs team in the Bengals’ way on their search for an AFC Championship is the Buffalo Bills, whose elite QB-WR tandem of Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs may just be enough to keep up with Burrow and his receivers. However, after losing All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White to injury in November, the Bills may not have what it takes in their secondary to stop the Bengals’ elite receiving core.
Some of the presumptive wildcard teams could prove challenging, but the Bengals look better on paper than any of the potential Cinderella teams hoping to string together a streak of road wins. The New England Patriots, the Bengals’ likely wildcard opponent, have the greatest coach of all-time in Bill Belichick, but will be limited by their rookie quarterback Mac Jones’ ability to go blow-for-blow with Burrow.
The Indianapolis Colts have a good defense and an even better running game, but just like the Titans and Patriots, will be held back by their quarterback play.
Ultimately, the top contenders in the AFC are probably the division winners, the Titans, Chiefs, Bills, Bengals, and maybe the well-coached Patriots. However, the Bengals are the hottest of these teams and with their quarterback playing at a historically-great level, they may just be the team that makes a run for a Super Bowl.
During that span, Burrow threw for 1,128 yards, nine touchdowns, and zero interceptions. No quarterback is on a hotter streak than Burrow, and he is winning games while playing this way, not just collecting garbage-time stats.
Many Super Bowls in the past have been won by the team, and particularly quarterback, that peaks at the right time. In the 2012-13 season, the Ravens won the Super Bowl on the back of Joe Flacco’s historic postseason. With Burrow playing the way he has, he may be the next quarterback to peak at the right time and take his team on a historic Super Bowl run.
With an elite group of weapons in Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and Joe Mixon, Burrow and the Bengals have the weapons to outscore any team in the NFL, let alone the AFC, and their offense is finally clicking at the most important moment in the season. Teams like the Chiefs and Bills can put tons of points on the board, but when the Bengals are clicking they can win in any shootout.
Not only has their offense been rolling, but their defense proved itself up to the task against the Chiefs. In the first half, they could not stop a nosebleed, allowing 28 points in the first half.
Coming out of halftime, however, the Bengals’ defense hunkered down and held Mahomes and his seemingly unstoppable defense to only three second-half points, doing so without recording a single sack or interception. In doing so, they showed they can show up in crunch time and help when their offense is playing at the highest level.
The simple fact is this: the Bengals beat the Chiefs in a shootout when Mahomes was playing at his highest level. The former MVP completed over 74% of his passes, recorded three touchdowns and didn’t throw any interceptions. Imagine what the Bengals’ can do against them when they can get a turnover, considering it’s highly unlikely to play the same team twice and not record a single sack or turnover in either game.
It’s going to be a tough path for whoever comes out on top in the AFC, but due to the vulnerabilities of other teams and the high level that Burrow and co. are playing at, the Bengals may just be the team that represents the conference in the Super Bowl.
This is not a team that will settle for one playoff win. As C.J. Uzomah said in the locker room on Sunday, “This is not the standard, the standard is a Super Bowl.”