Believe in the Cincinnati Bengals.
They’ve emerged as front-runners in a tough AFC North, which is stacked with talented teams that have had issues winning football games. The Bengals, meanwhile, may not boast the same roster talent as the Pittsburgh Steelers, but they also don’t have the same headaches. They’ve figured out how to win games over Indianapolis Colts, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins.
The win over the Ravens in Week 2 should have put them on the radar as contenders. Their win over the Dolphins was an affirmation. These 2018 Bengals are good — really good — particularly on offense.
Cincinnati’s offense, led by quarterback Andy Dalton, is getting it done. The Bengals have scored the third-most points in the NFL. The biggest problem is that Dalton needs to throw fewer interceptions, as he has 1,445 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Dalton is getting help from a deep cast of pass-catchers with A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, C.J. Uzomah, Gio Bernard and Joe Mixon.
Boyd, in particular, has been a pleasant surprise, as he was leading the team in receiving yards last week. He and Green make for a challenging duo to defend. Though receiver John Ross, a 2017 first-round pick, hasn’t emerged, Boyd has far exceeded expectations. The injury to Tyler Eifert was a disappointment, but he can’t stay healthy. It was almost expected. Mixon, meanwhile, has gotten healthy and looks dangerous rushing and catching the football. After rushing for 3.5 yards per carry in his rookie season in 2017, he has bumped that to 4.5 in 2018.
And their defense can score, too. They had two defensive touchdowns in their win over the Dolphins. They don’t have many flashy players — at least not yet well-known names. Geno Atkins (six sacks, 22 tackles) is a monster, and is in the same league as Aaron Donald in terms of disruptive defensive tackles. Atkins has double the sacks Donald has. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap is on pace to record roughly 13 sacks on the season. Linebacker Nick Vigil, a 2016 third-round pick, has been racking up 9.8 tackles per game. Rookie safety Jessie Bates and defensive end Sam Hubbard are emerging quickly. Bates leads the team with two interceptions.
They’re still allowing too many points per game at 26, which is 11th worst in the NFL. But their offense has been able to make up those defensive shortcomings.
If cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and William Jackson can begin playing well, they could help bring up the performance of the defense as a whole. Better play from linebackers would also help them bring down their yards per carry allowed (4.5, 11th worst in the NFL).
The Bengals have their issues, which they’ll need to correct in the coming weeks with games against some of the league’s top offenses in the Steelers, the Kansas City Chiefs and the New Orleans Saints over the next four weeks. But during that span, Cincinnati will have a chance to prove they’re not just one of the best teams in the AFC, but in the NFL.