Former Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis used to regale us with his “Marvin-isms” in his classic press conferences. One of the things we heard ad nauseam was that the easiest way to make the playoffs was to beat the teams in your division.
That was sage advice, coming from the man who rescued an NFL franchise from the darkest depths of North American sports.
It would appear that the AFC North has taken that to heart this season. Each of the four teams has had success outside of the division. Where they seem to be having the most problems is within the division. In Week 7, the Browns, Ravens, and Steelers won games against non-divisional adversaries. In fact, the AFC North is 10-3 outside the division.
With the Bengals on a bye and the other three teams winning, the AFC North Power Rankings are like your favorite song... on repeat.
4) Cincinnati Bengals
Unfortunately for the Cincinnati Bengals, the worst-case scenario played out over Week 7, as the Steelers, Ravens, and Browns all won their matchups. While the Bengals were on a bye, they had to sit idly by and watch all the division foes increase their lead over the men in stripes.
If the season were to end today, three of the four AFC North teams would be in the playoffs. Not only are the Bengals losing ground in the division, but the challenge of reaching the playoffs is becoming more daunting as other teams creep ahead of them in the standings.
Not only must they leapfrog one of the teams that occupy the seven playoff spots, but the Bengals are also behind the Houston Texans and the New York Jets, who won this weekend. The Texans and Jets are 2-2 within the conference, whereas the Bengals are 0-3. The only other team in the AFC that hasn’t won a conference game is the Denver Broncos, who are 0-4 in that department.
Now headed into Week 8, after a must-win game heading into the bye, it's looking more and more like another pivotal game versus the San Francisco 49ers if they want to keep pace in the AFC North standings. If Cincinnati were to lose to the 49ers on Sunday, the Colts and the Raiders would own the tiebreaker over the Bengals if the three teams are tied in the standings.
The good news is that Cincinnati is on a two-game winning streak, and Joe Burrow looked a lot like his old self the last time we saw him. Also, the Bengals are 3-0 this season versus teams from the NFC West, and a sweep of that division will go a long way in helping the Bengals catch up to and surpass their divisional rivals.
Hopefully, Zac Taylor’s squad has had enough time to right the early-season woes that have landed the team in a precarious position.