After a dominant win over the Carolina Panthers, which featured a record-setting five touchdowns from Joe Mixon and the team being up 35-0 at halftime, Cincinnati finds themselves in a familiar position heading into the BYE -- A 5-4 record.
This is the exact same record they had heading into the BYE last season, something that's been passed around by fans and even defensive end Sam Hubbard to inspire optimism after the rollercoaster ride that was the first half of this season.
This begs the question: Which is the better squad? The 2022 Bengals or the 2021 Bengals?
Are the 2022 Bengals better than the 2021 Bengals?
Despite holding the same record at this point in the season, it's safe to say that these squads differ vastly from one another -- How they play, different personnel (especially on the O-Line), and especially injuries are all very different. It isn't as simple as "well, they share the same record so they're both on the same level".
One of the key differences and something that could hurt the 2022 Bengals in the long run is their division records. This season, the Bengals are an embarrassing 0-3 in division games as they enter the BYE. Last year, they were 2-1, the only consistency being getting blown out by the Browns.
One thing these two squads do share, however, is a couple of impressive wins to build off of. I'm not talking about destroying bad teams like the Lions in 2021 or the Panthers this past week, more so getting wins against quality opponents. This includes marching into Pittsburgh to get a relatively easy victory and holding a Lamar Jackson-led offense to just 17 points in a 24-point win last year and getting back-to-back wins against some surprisingly good AFC East opponents this year in the Jets and Dolphins.
To be fair, both of those teams were missing their starting quarterbacks. Though, while you can certainly make the case for Tua's absence playing a big role in Cincy's win over the Dolphins, Zach Wilson has been the last person you can pin the Jets' success on so far.
Something else the 2021 and 2022 teams share is inconsistency. This year's Bengals have definitely been more inconsistent, at least on the offensive side of the ball, but despite how good the 2021 Bengals ended up being, they were not a dominant team on a week-to-week basis and their longest winning streak only reached three in a row.
This year has been particularly brutal on the Bengals after they were largely spared from the injury bug last season. Just this past week against the Panthers, Dax Hill and Chris Evans went down with injuries. The most notable ones so far this year are D.J Reader, Chidobe Awuzie, and, of course, Ja'Marr Chase. They should be getting Reader and Chase back after the BYE week, thankfully, but Awuzie is out for the season with a torn ACL, a big loss to a cornerback core that struggles with depth.
So, the final verdict? While their records are the same, I'd take the 2021 Bengals over this squad, and that's not taking into account their Super Bowl run. The 2022 Bengals feel more inconsistent and injuries play a big factor in this ruling. I would also add that Joe Burrow has regressed, however, he has been getting back to form in the last few games, excluding the miserable outing against the Browns.
We'll see just how accurate this ruling is in the following weeks, and if this past week was a sign of things to come or simply just a good win over a bad time. The Bengals have a tough schedule to round out the season, featuring matchups against the Chiefs, Bills, Titans, and Ravens again. I would also add the Browns, as they have beaten the Bengals in every game so far since the decade started.
After starting 5-4, last year's Bengals won five of their last eight and finished with a 10-7 record. Will this year's Cincinnati team match that? Will they fall short? Or will they do even better than the 2021 Bengals?