Bengals receive massive respect in early NFL power rankings

Cincinnati Bengals. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Cincinnati Bengals. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The wounds of their Super Bowl LVI loss are still fresh, but at least the Cincinnati Bengals have the 2022 season to look forward to.

After assembling a championship-worthy roster in 2021, the Bengals are well ahead of schedule. The franchise boasts young and promising stars in Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, to name a few, and while Cincinnati’s model of success isn’t as sustainable as, say, that of the Kansas City Chiefs, the Bengals could still dominate for a few more years.

ESPN recently released their “way-too-early” NFL power rankings for 2022 and listed the Bengals at No. 5 overall. NFL Nation writer Ben Baby wrote a snippet about Cincy’s potential offseason plans:

"Cincinnati must figure out what to do at right guard and right tackle. Will Jackson Carman finally secure the starting spot that slipped out of his grasp at the beginning of the 2021 season? Will Cincinnati look to re-sign veteran Riley Reiff after a one-year deal? Whatever the answers are, the Bengals need to find the right ones."

Ben Baby described the Bengals’ offseason in three words: Protect Joe Burrow.

Cincinnati Bengals get ranked fifth in ESPN’s early power rankings for 202

Burrow was sacked a total of 19 times in the playoffs, so it’s only fitting that the Bengals’ top priority should be to protect him. The franchise couldn’t possibly risk another season-ending injury.

It’s easy enough to say, “improve the offensive line,” but that in reality could take more than an offseason’s worth of work. Rarely do teams find starting-caliber offensive linemen in free agency, and any prospect Cincy picks in the 2022 draft will need time to develop.

As it stands, Cincinnati aren’t the leading favorites to win the 2022 Super Bowl. But ESPN’s power rankings at least breed optimism.

The Bengals are ranked above star-studded teams like the Dallas Cowboys and as well as teams with strong quarterbacks like the Los Angeles Chargers and Baltimore Ravens.

The Chiefs, Bills, Rams, and Packers rank above Cincinnati, but the Packers could drop several places depending on whether Aaron Rodgers returns to the team.

Compared to other top-five or even top-ten teams on the list, the Bengals have enjoyed a sudden meteoric rise into the upper echelons of the league. No longer a playoff doormat, Cincinnati is legit. Top-five legit.

Next. Winners and losers from Bengals’ crushing Super Bowl LVI loss to Rams. dark

These sky-high hopes should be taken with a heaping of caution, however. The Bengals would do well to refer to the Greek tale of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun and got burned.

2022 presents a very different playing field than 2021 — is Cincinnati ready for it?