Are the Cincinnati Bengals Playoff Contenders or Pretenders?

The Cincinnati Bengals waited nine weeks to play their most complete game of the season in a 42-21 thrashing of the Carolina Panthers at Paycor Stadium. This victory gets the Bengals to 5-4 and the bye week with the same record as the 2021 Super Bowl team through nine games. Cincinnati took control right from the opening kickoff on a stellar 90-yard drive capped off by a Joe Mixon rushing touchdown. The Bengals never looked back as Mixon had one of the best performances in franchise history with 211 yards from scrimmage and 5 total touchdowns. The emergence of solid offensive line play and an effective rushing attack couldn’t come at a better time for the Bengals.  In the final eight weeks of the season, the Bengals have the second toughest schedule in the NFL and face a murders row of quarterbacks. The path to the postseason won’t be easy and begs the question, are the Bengals playoff contenders or pretenders?

Are the Cincinnati Bengals Playoff Contenders or Pretenders?

The Positives

  • Joe Burrow – The Bengals franchise leader has been fantastic again in his third season under center. Burrow has thrown for 2535 yards at a 70% completion percentage with 18 touchdowns and 6 interceptions for a rating of 102.6. Cincinnati is counting on Burrow to keep this torrid pace and carry the team if needed down the road.
  • Defense – Even though the Bengals defense is banged up right now, it’s one of the most underrated units in the NFL. The defensive line has been mostly consistent in both providing pressure and stopping the run. The secondary has done a great job of limiting big plays and touchdowns when teams are in the red zone.
  • Interior Offensive Line – The Bengals made a large splash in free agency by signing Alex Cappa and Ted Karras. They also drafted rookie left guard Cordell Volson in the fourth round. This group has been largely solid in pass protection and in the run game.

The Negatives

  • Offensive Tackle – The majority of pressure and sacks that have come are largely attributable to the Bengals offensive tackles, La’el Collins and Jonah Willams. When the Bengals face elite pass rushers, the entire offense suffers. Williams leads the NFL with nine sacks allowed and Collins has had issues, especially early in the season. The Bengals will need their bookends to quickly improve in pass protection to help the offense reach its potential.
  • Play-calling – Zac Taylor deserves a ton of credit for building one of the best locker-room cultures in the NFL. Taylor’s biggest weakness is being creative and making quick adjustments in the play-calling department. In certain games, you do get glimpses of greatness but several instances leave you shaking your head.
  • Consistency – Effective play-calling and consistency often go hand in hand. The Bengals haven’t played consistent, complementary football at the mid-point of the 2022 season. Look for the team to build off the Panthers game plan to help improve their consistency when the players return from the bye.

The Verdict

During the stretch run last year, the Bengals were one of the NFL’s best on both sides of the ball and got hot at the right time heading into the playoffs. Look for Cincinnati to be in a similar situation in 2022 as they get several players back from injuries in Week 11. In the end, this is a battle-tested, veteran roster that is primed to make another playoff run.