The Cincinnati Bengals surprised the NFL and football fans everywhere. They probably surprised themselves a little too as head coach Zac Taylor took the Bengals to the Super Bowl last season. Cincy has done a great job rebuilding the franchise. The Bengals may have even been a year early on their Super Bowl trip, but they had their best season in over three decades.
Last season was Cincinnati’s first AFC title since 1988. After a 10-7 regular season finish, there was still some work to do in the offseason. With those moves behind them and now in training camp, can the Bengals make it back to the Super Bowl?
The Offensive Line
If Cincy had a weak spot last season, it was the offensive line. The Bengals surrendered the third-most sacks in the NFL a year ago. Don’t forget, QB Joe Burrow already has had one knee injury. The Bengals can’t afford another.
The team went out in free agency to take care of business. C Ted Karras was acquired from New England and G Alex Cappa from the Buccaneers. Their additions have the Cincy offensive line projected as the eighth-best in the NFL. If that holds true, QB Joe Burrow could do even better than his 4,611 passing yards in 2021.
The Running Game
The addition of Karras and Cappa also helps Bengals RB Joe Mixon. Cincinnati was only 23rd in the NFL in rushing last year, but Mixon did have a 1,000-yard season. A better offensive line makes the run game better, which can help Burrow in the passing game.
Plus, Mixon is becoming a serious receiving threat too. He had 42 catches and three touchdowns last season, his third 1,000-yard rushing season. Improving the running game helps the Bengals offense as a whole.
The Bengals’ defense got better as the season wore on in 2021. They finished fifth against the run (102.5 ypg), but 26th against the pass. The Bengals were a middle-of-the-road scoring defense allowing 22.1 points a game (17th). One area where they were solid was getting after the quarterback. Cincy recorded 42 sacks which tied for the 11th-most in the league.
Cincinnati addressed the defense in the draft. They took Michigan S Dax Hill with their first-round pick and CB Cam Taylor-Britt of Nebraska in the second. DT Zachary Carter (3rd round) and S Tycen Anderson (5th) were also among the Bengals’ picks.
One of the biggest determinants of success in an NFL season is a team’s schedule. The AFC North is rated as the second-toughest division in the league. The AFC West is No. 1. Which means six tough games – Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Baltimore – in the division.
As luck would have it, the Bengals then play the entire AFC East, the weakest division in the conference. Cincy also crosses over to play the NFC East, also among the weakest in the NFC and in the NFL. That is eight games that will help determine Cincinnati’s fate in 2022.
So, can the Bengals make it back to the Super Bowl this season? Absolutely. They have one of the best young quarterbacks in the game in Burrow. He’ll play behind a much better offensive line this season. The running game will improve and that will help the offense as a whole. Remember, Cincy averaged 27.1 points a game last season, which was seventh in the NFL.
The defense should be better with the addition of some help in the secondary. The schedule is favorable and there is no doubt the Bengals will contend for the AFC North, AFC, and Super Bowl titles in 2022.
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