CINCINNATI — The Bengals enter the second half of the season with a 5-4 record. They're just one game behind the first-place Ravens (6-3) in the AFC North standings.
The Bengals are off to the best start of the Zac Taylor era, but plenty of questions remain with eight games to go.
Will they make the playoffs for the first time since 2015? Will the defense regain their early season form after back-to-back clunkers? Is Joe Burrow going to continue to lead the NFL in interceptions?
Those questions will be answered over the next eight three weeks. In the meantime, here are three bold predictions for the second half of the Bengals' season.
Joe Burrow Will Finish First in Passer Rating, Lead AFC in TD Passes
Burrow is currently eighth (102.6) in the NFL in passer rating, just 8.2 points away from Dak Prescott, who's currently leading the league (110.8).
No one ranked ahead of Burrow has thrown more than eight interceptions (Matthew Stafford). The Bengals' signal-caller leads the NFL with 11 interceptions.
If Burrow's interceptions come down, there's no reason why his passer rating shouldn't continue to rise in the second half of the season.
Of course he'll need to throw for plenty of touchdowns over the next eight games if he's going to overtake Prescott and the other six quarterbacks ahead of him.
Burrow was on pace for 43 touchdown passes before the Bengals' Week 9 matchup against the Browns. He'll get back on track this Sunday against the Raiders, before ultimately leading the AFC in touchdown passes.
Burrow is currently second in the conference (20) behind Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes (25). Kansas City hasn't had their bye week yet (Week 13), which gives Burrow a chance to make up some ground over the next few games.
New Career High for Jessie Bates
Jessie Bates hasn't lived up to expectations this season after becoming one of the best safeties in the NFL in 2020.
He admits that his "mind was on other things" during the first 10 weeks of the season.
Bates is going to rebound over the final eight games. The 24-year-old finished with three receptions in each of his first three years in the NFL. This year he only has one interception.
He's going to set a new career-high in the final eight games of the year.
Bates is too talented not to make some big plays over the next two months. Ultimately, he'll tally four interceptions in the final eight games, which would give him five on the season and a new career-high.
Ja'Marr Chase is currently second in the AFC in receiving yards with 835. Only Tyreek Hill has more (855) and the Chiefs haven't had their bye week.
Chase isn't going to hit a rookie wall and he's going to be productive in the final eight games, but Tee Higgins is going to lead the Bengals in receiving yards for the remainder of the season.
Higgins, 22, is currently second on the team with 431 yards. After missing multiple games due to a shoulder injury, the second-year wide-out will get back on track, lead the Bengals in receiving over the final eight games and top the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the first time in his young career.
Bonus: Money McPherson From the Logo
Evan McPherson has made 11-of-14 field goal attempts and is a perfect 27-for-27 on extra points this season.
The rookie has stabilized the Bengals' kicking position and he's going to set a franchise record in the final eight games.
McPherson is destined to break the Bengals' record for longest made field goal (57 yards). He almost tied the record in Week 5 against the Packers, but missed a potential game winner.
He did make an attempt from 53-yards earlier this season.
The 22-year-old has the talent and the confidence to be a difference maker for the Bengals down the stretch.
McPherson is going to make a 60-yard field goal this year, setting a new Bengals record and helping his team make a playoff push.
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