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Bengals Have Uphill Climb To Stay Atop AFC This Season

After an improbable run to Super Bowl LVI, the AFC is a murderer's row for Cincinnati.

There aren't a lot of teams in the NFL that can lay claim to the firepower the Cincinnati Bengals provide on the offensive side of the ball. 

You have the Kansas City Chiefs who are now without Tyreek Hill, the Green Bay Packers who traded Davante Adams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who are currently without Rob Gronkowski, the defending champion Los Angeles Rams who are without Odell Beckham Jr., and the stacked AFC West.

That doesn't mean that the Bengals won't face their share of issues this season.

Baltimore and Cleveland are both better than they were are year ago.

The Ravens under-performed in 2021 due to injuries and COVID issues. And although Cleveland lost Jarvis Landry and traded Odell Beckham Jr. last season, they dealt for Deshaun Watson and Amari Cooper. They also have one of the best running back tandems in the NFL.

So not only did the division get tougher, but the Bengals' schedule is not for the faint of heart. Weeks 12-18 are absolutely brutal. 

Cincinnati has home games against the Chiefs, Browns, Bills, and Ravens. They also hit the road to face the Titans, Buccaneers, and Patriots is one of the most difficult stretches in recent memory. Ah, the ups and downs of winning the division and going to the Super Bowl—you get five prime time games, but have to take on the best each division has to offer from the season before.

For the Bengals, they've already made great strides in improving both sides of the ball while trying to keep pace with the rest of the conference. The additions of La'el Collins, Alex Cappa and Ted Karras were huge improvements for the protection of Joe Burrow, while also assisting in the run game for Joe Mixon. While the addition of Collins speaks for itself, know that Cappa is one of the nastiest and toughest guards you're ever going to find on the open market and his experience will be a huge boost to a team that needs improvement across the line.

On the flip side, the dedication to improving the secondary was a welcome one. Dax Hill is a versatile weapon in the secondary that can play deep, can come into the box, blitz off the edge, or play slot corner. Cincinnati's second round pick Cam Taylor-Britt is a fast, physical player that will bring some much needed consistency to the secondary. 

Though the Bengals averaged 27.1 points per game—good for seventh best in the NFL and fifth best in the AFC—they allowed 22.1 points per game which came in ranked 17th in the league. That has to improve since they're slated to play the top four scoring teams from last season and five of the top six.

Did the Bengals do enough to stay atop the mountain in the hyper-competitive AFC? While they won't always be the most talented or the deepest team on the field, they have something that other teams don't: Burrow. 

Burrow is a champion, a leader, and has an unrelenting will to win. Over the years we've seen plenty of quarterbacks with desire to win, but were missing that defining characteristic where they were able to put a team on their back and literally will them to victory. Sure, you see it in guys like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Patrick Mahomes, but it's not common. Burrow has it.

The rest of the team now has the understanding of what it takes to get to the Super Bowl. They came up just short against the Rams but Karras and Cappa have both won Super Bowls. They have that pedigree, that experience that the rest of the team can learn from and build off of in their quest for a World Championship

There's no question that whoever emerges as the top dog in the AFC will have earned it. For Cincinnati, they understand how to do it and have the pieces to earn that honor once again.

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