November 07, 2015 - Joe Mason
4 Reasons that the Patriots and Broncos Should Worry about the Cincinnati Bengals
Entering the ninth week of the NFL season, there were no fewer than three undefeated teams in the AFC. The New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, and Cincinnati Bengals were all 7-0. And on Thursday night, the Bengals became the first of these teams to reach 8-0. Lots of people are talking about the defending champion New England Patriots or the Denver Broncos team that recently beat the Packers, and with good reason. But there are also plenty of good reasons to talk about the Cincinnati Bengals, a team that the Patriots and Broncos should be pretty scared of. Here’s why. Andy Dalton Has Become an Excellent Quarterback The Bengals have been a competent team for a few seasons now, but their jump to elite status has been made possible in part by the superb play of Andy Dalton. While Dalton is still a cut below the Tom Bradys of the world, he’s now actively improving his team instead of holding it back. As quarterbacks like Joe Flacco, Colin Kaepernick, and even Russell Wilson have shown, you don’t need elite quarterback play to get to the Super Bowl – but you do need very good quarterback play. That’s what Dalton is providing now. Dalton’s 2015 stats are really, really good. He’s throwing for per game, a top-ten mark in 2015. He’s third in yards per attempt, and fourth in ESPN’s total QBR. Did we say Dalton wasn’t quite elite yet? Heck, in 2015, maybe he is! The Bengals are an Offensive Team, but a Balanced One The Bengals are 8-0, but they do not have a top-five offense. They do not have a top-five passing offense, and they do not have a top-five rushing offense. They also do not have a top-five defense, or a top-five pass defense, or a top-five rush defense. What they do have is an offensive-minded team that is remarkably well rounded. The Bengals are sixth and seventh, respectively, in passing and rushing offense. That means that they’re not overly reliant on either. They’re a bit weaker on defense, where they finish in the low twenties, but they’re pretty balanced there, too. There isn’t an obvious way to attack this Bengals team or an obvious way to defend against them. They’re just a team you have to beat honestly – and that’s very tough to do. The Bengals Schedule Has Been Tougher Than You Think The Bengals are undefeated, sure – but who have they played? Well, some teams that are quite a bit better than you’d think. The Bengals beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks, for instance. Those are both technically .500 teams. But the Seahawks taken three of their four losses to undefeated teams, and they have a strong defense that should have matched up well against the Bengals offense (and, frankly, did – the Bengals were just too good to let it stop them). The Steelers, meanwhile, have started both of their offensive superstars (QB Ben Roethlisberger and RB Le’Veon Bell) in just two games this season. The only time they lost with both stars starting was against the Bengals. Le’Veon Bell was injured again in the Bengals game, so we’ll never now how good the Steelers could have been if he’d played the whole season. But considering the Steelers are 4-4 and have only been at full strength of a few quarters, it seems safe to say that the Bengals beat a very dangerous team. We could go on: the Raiders look like a playoff team, the Chargers’ high-powered offense makes them perhaps the best 2-6 team ever, and the Chiefs took three of their five losses against elite teams (Denver, Green Bay, and the Bengals themselves). Yes, many of the teams the Bengals beat have losing records – but were any of them truly bad? Frankly, we don’t think so. The Bengals Have Shellacked The Opposition Even if you think the Bengals have had a cupcake schedule, you still ought to be impressed. The Bengals haven’t just won games – they’ve won them in style. The Bengals have outscored their opponents by a total of 66 points this season. That’s the third-best point differential in the entire NFL. The Patriots best them (nobody’s point differential is higher than the Patriots’ +116), but the Broncos lag ten points behind. The Bengals are right in the thick of things with the best teams in the league, and they’ve earned their point differential even while dealing with defensive-minded teams like the Seahawks and the Bills.