Are the Bengals legit? We'll soon find out

November 08, 2011|By Matt Vensel

Take a glance at the AFC North standings when you get a chance, and you'll see that the 6-2 Ravens are a line above the 6-3 Pittsburgh Steelers after sweeping the season series. But they trail the 6-2 Cincinnati Bengals by a slim margin -- the Ravens have one more loss in the AFC -- halfway through the season.

You may have already known that. You might also think it's a mere formality and that it's only a matter of time until those pesky Bengals get out of the way and allow the Ravens to claim what's theirs.

The NFL doesn’t work that way, of course, so don’t count on the season’s second half to be waived.

"We put ourselves in good position for the division," said Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, the hero in Sunday night’s 23-20 win at Heinz Field. "But we've got a lot of good teams that we still have to beat."

With a rookie QB in Andy Dalton, a group of young receivers led by No. 4 overall pick A.J. Green and a defense that is fourth in the NFL in yards allowed, the Bengals are among the biggest surprises of 2011.

But are they a legit threat to win the AFC North? We’re going to find out in the next few weeks.

The Bengals host the Steelers on Sunday. A week later, they travel to M&T Bank Stadium to play the Ravens -- who, by the way, have a challenging game this weekend out on the West Coast in Seattle. After the Browns come to Cincinnati the weekend after Thanksgiving, the Bengals visit Heinz Field.

So who should you cheer for this Sunday: the Bengals or the Steelers?

This one seems like a no-brainer to me. For starters, do you really want to root for the Steelers? And do you really think the Steelers are just going to go away because they dropped those two games to the Ravens? They will make the Ravens do their due diligence down the stretch to win the division.

And that due diligence includes winning their two games against the Bengals, which as we well know, is never as easy as it seems it should be. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and former quarterback Carson Palmer were 9-4 all-time against the Ravens. We have yet to see if Lewis and Dalton collectively have their number as well.

With that showdown looming in Week 11, the Ravens control their own destiny.

"We're at the halfway point, and we feel like we've put ourselves in a good position," Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson said of Sunday’s game against the Seahawks. "We're 6-2, but we've got a tough one coming up this week, a West Coast trip, and if we don't go out and play well next week, it's just going to put us back in a hole. We need to capitalize this week and make this win really mean something."

Then they can worry about those pesky Bengals, who control their own destiny, too.

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