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The Narrative About A Cincinnati Bengals Regression Is Disrespectful, Baffling And Straight-Up Wrong

Kevin C. Cox. Getty Images.
Giphy Images.

So this, um, AFC championship team that had one clear weakness, the offensive line, went out and acquired four new starters out of five that will presumably be upgrades because, let's be honest, it feels impossible to imagine a worse-case scenario.

The Cincinnati Bengals. They who beat the mighty Chiefs not once (in the regular season), but twice! In the AFC title game. At Arrowhead. 

Everyone is thinking Cincy is destined for a regression? You mean that team with a quarterback, Joe Burrow, who played behind one of the most atrocious pass-blocking lines in the NFL, and still found a way to lead the NFL in yards per pass attempt and completion percentage? Oh, and even though the football gods served up yet another shit sandwich for our man Joey B. in the form of an emergency appendectomy this offseason, at least he wasn't, you know, rehabbing from a torn ACL/MCL/"other structural damage" knee.

Joe Burrow is going to be as healthy as he's been since he entered the NFL. With much better protection. Oh, and guess what? All indications are he's going to have a far better rushing attack to complement him.

Did you know Bengals running backs were contacted in the backfield on FIFTY-TWO PERCENT of their carries last season? True fucking story.

Just think about that for a second. Before Joe Mixon or any other Bengals ball-carrier touched the ball in 2021 on any given run play, there was a better than 50-50 chance that they'd need to break a tackle or make someone miss just to avoid a negative play. In spite of that fact, Mixon ranked third in carries, third in rushing yards and fourth in rushing TDs. Cincinnati, however, still ranked 23rd in total rushing offense.

A mauler at right tackle in La'el Collins is but one of the Bengals' notable offseason additions in the trenches. The "got that DOG in him" meme is overused at this point. If there were a better way to describe Collins and new right guard Alex Cappa, I'd place that here. Suffice it to say, these dudes are nasty and get the fuck after it.

As for ex-Patriot Ted Karras? On a team that just went to the actual whole-ass Super Bowl and retained many of its key core players, he's already established himself as a captain.

There are also some wide receivers you might've heard of. Ja'Marr Chase sat out an entire year of football, was still adjusting to the NFL game on the fly as a rookie, and had some drops issues that lingered beyond the alarming preseason he had where his rust was most evident. Chase ranked fourth in the NFL in receiving yards (1,455) and third in TD catches (13). Tee Higgins missed three games and still managed 1,091 yards on 74 receptions while playing most of the time through a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery. Higgins is extension eligible in 2023. Think he's driven at all to get that bag?

The narrative around the Bengals wouldn't be this lazy "regression" argument if they'd only won the Super Bowl. So many plays throughout a game can determine the outcome. Yes, Odell Beckham Jr.'s injury benefited Cincinnati. Officials missed an obvious penalty on Higgins' long TD on Jalen Ramsey to begin the second half. And so on.

My point is this: When all the chips were down, the Bengals called upon Burrow and Chase to deliver them the Lombardi Trophy. In the most specific detail I've seen it described in for The MMQB's Albert Breer, Burrow and Chase recently shared their thoughts on the Aaron Donald-interrupted, would-be connection that would've possibly been the greatest touchdown in NFL history:

Burrow, before the snap, had identified man coverage, and checked Chase to go over the top—in a Let’s end this now sort of way. He was never going to his left. His eyes were only there to pull safety Nick Scott out of the deep area to which Chase would run.

“We were going there the whole way,” Burrow said. “We got man and if we get man, I’m going to Ja’Marr. The safety [Scott] was off the hash, kind of helping on [Chase’s] side, so I knew I had to move him a little bit. And in the process of doing that, I didn’t have quite enough time to move the safety and get back to it.”

Sure enough, by the time Burrow had successfully moved Scott and pivoted to get to Chase who was running free past Ramsey, he had a faceful of Donald and that was that.

“He did check to me; he definitely checked to me,” Chase says. “I mean, at the end of the day, nobody really knows what would’ve happened. Nobody knows what would’ve happened, if it would’ve happened, I can’t dwell on that play.”

“I’m past it,” Burrow said. “Obviously, you would’ve liked to have that one, but we’re on to this year and making the most out of this year.”

If that play happens, suddenly people are hyperventilating to get their "DYNASTY" takes out which are obviously hyperbolic and misguided. Everyone seems to be sprinting in the opposite direction of any sustainable success for Cincinnati. For the life of me I can't understand why.

The "fluke" argument that folks make about the Bengals' run to the Super Bowl is based on the fact that they came out of nowhere, and actually shrinks one's credibility if used as a reason as to why they will regress. Even my most optimistic projections couldn't have imagined Cincinnati's run through the AFC. I'm sure I wasn't alone in thinking we were staring at something like 4-13 given the continued o-line neglect, how unproven the defense and Zac Taylor were and the uncertainty about Joey B's serious, serious knee injury.

Seldom do people talk about the flip side of a "fluke" AFC championship: What if it's only the beginning of something special? It's not like the Bengals were believed to have this gaping Super Bowl window and 2021 was their last-gasp hope at achieving such glory. Presuming they come up with the scratch for the massive second contracts for Burrow and Chase, they should have arguably the best QB-WR duo in the NFL for years to come, continuity on the offensive coaching staff thanks to Taylor calling the plays, and a defense that really came together in the playoffs.

If you don't love Cincy's D, realize that they played only one bad half in the entire postseason and were otherwise pretty much lights-out. They're deeper at defensive end this year, and first-round pick Dax Hill is a Swiss Army Knife in the secondary who's already generating significant buzz that he can make an instant impact.

Jessie Bates not reporting to training camp actually gave Dax Hill many quality reps. His skill set will allow defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo to get even more creative with his zone-heavy schemes on the back end. If the Bengals can be more balanced on offense, I would imagine Cincinnati's 2021 ranking of 20th in yards allowed per play will only drop.

Yada yada injury luck. Yada yada schedule strength. Yada yada "TARGET ON THEIR BACK NOW" takes. You think Joe Burrow gives a flying fuck who puts a target on his back? 

Giphy Images.

All I know is the Bengals have been thrust into five prime-time game slots, in all likelihood, wouldn't be in said slots if they were expected to be an embarrassment.

I know the Ravens are getting lots of guys back from injury. I know the Steelers haven't had a losing season under Mike Tomlin. I'm not saying the AFC North or the rest of the schedule is going to be easy. But to slapdash, haphazardly write the 2022 Cincinnati Bengals off seems like the paragon of pro football ignorance.

Since 2008, only three Super Bowl losers have failed to make the playoffs the following year. You wanna bet against Joe, Ja'Marr, Tee, Mixon, Tyler Boyd and this offense and an ascending defense? Be my guest. Go nuts.

Please fuck my world up, Freezing Cold Takes and anyone I work with if I'm dead-wrong on this. But I've got the Bengals as the AFC's No. 1 seed based on this game-by-game breakdown.

  • vs. Steelers, Week 1: WIN
  • at Cowboys, Week 2: WIN
  • at Jets, Week 3: WIN/Vengeance
  • vs Dolphins, Week 4 (TNF): WIN. Short week vs. Tua and a new coach.
  • at Ravens, Week 5 (SNF): LOSS
  • at Saints, Week 6: WIN, Jameis and Dennis Allen? Come on.
  • vs Falcons, Week 7: WIN
  • at Browns, Week 8: WIN against Jacoby Brissett.
  • vs Panthers Week 9: LOSS. Big upset/pre-bye letdown!
  • Week 10: BYE
  • vs. Steelers Week 11: LOSS, everyone leaving the Bengals for dead in the loaded AFC!
  • at Titans, Week 12: WIN. Again.
  • vs. Chiefs, Week 13: LOSS, KC revenge
  • vs. Browns, Week 14: WIN. Deshaun Watson sucks.
  • at Bucs, Week 15: WIN. Even the GOAT can't stop this train in warmer weather.
  • at Patriots Week 16: WIN. Who's calling plays for the Pats? No one good!
  • vs. Bills, Week 17 (MNF): WIN. Buffalo's corners are in deep shit.
  • vs. Ravens, Week 18: WIN, possibly for the AFC North title

Record prediction: 13-4

Oh and we also have this incredible Barstool Sportsbook promo to help celebrate football being back — and basically, if you bet on the Bengals at +2000 to win the Super Bowl, you're really only betting $30 if they win at least 10 games. Check it out and do consider tailing, or at least hedging if you prefer a shorter-odds favorite!

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