Leading up to the 2021 season, the Cincinnati Bengals were an afterthought in the competitive AFC North division.
The talk centered around the three playoff teams that came out of the AFC North last season: the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers.
The belief was that the Bengals were building toward a playoff run, but it would take Joe Burrow and company another year or so to get there.
After all, the 2020 team only won four games.
They finished 4-11-1.
It was too big of a leap to believe the Bengals could make up so much ground in just one offseason.
All of that speculation was incorrect as we sit in Week 7.
The Ravens are 5-1 and lead the division; right behind them in sole possession of second place are the Bengals at 4-2.
The AFC North has not begun inter-division play yet, but that’s about to change.
Week 7 pits the Bengals against the Ravens in Baltimore.
With a victory, the Bengals would be tied for first place with the Ravens.
If they lose, they will still be in the thick of things in a tie for second place with the Cleveland Browns at 4-3.
How have the Bengals done it?
His rookie season was stellar but cut short by a season-ending injury.
Some thought Burrow might start out slowly which could not be farther from the truth.
Burrow has 14 touchdown passes and only 7 interceptions.
Only 2 NFL QBs have multiple Pass TD in every game this season.
– Patrick Mahomes
– Joe Burrow pic.twitter.com/KF936hekkk
— NFL on CBS 🏈 (@NFLonCBS) October 17, 2021
He has thrown for more than 1,500 yards.
The Bengals were wise to draft Burrow’s former LSU teammate, Ja’Marr Chase.
They also ignored all of the preseason hoopla about Chase dropping passes.
He certainly has rectified that when it counted.
Chase has 5 touchdowns and 553 yards receiving.
He has given Burrow something he was sorely lacking last year.
A deep pass threat.
Burrow struggled mightily on deep pass plays last season.
Joe Burrow was accurate on 7 of 40 deep passes (17.5%) last season.
The worst deep passer in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/0Qhf80NnKf
— QB Data Mine (@QBDataMine) March 7, 2021
All that has changed thanks to the chemistry between Chase and Burrow.
Joe Burrow has 4 touchdown passes of 30+ air yards this season, most in the NFL. All of them have been thrown to Ja'Marr Chase.
Burrow had zero such completions as a rookie.
Elite chemistry. pic.twitter.com/CvI5dsVcq5
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) October 20, 2021
Mixon has done anything asked of him to make the Bengals successful.
He has three touchdown runs and five touchdown catches.
Mixon is among the top five NFL rushers through Week 6.
NFL rushing leaders after Week 6:
1. Derrick Henry 783
2. Nick Chubb 523
3. Ezekiel Elliott 521
4. Joe Mixon 480
5. Jonathan Taylor 472
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) October 19, 2021
The Ravens Are Hot
In addition to having homefield advantage, the Ravens are on a hot streak.
Lamar Jackson is definitely on pace for another MVP season.
If he is not using his legs, his arm has been powerful in getting the Ravens into the end zone.
This was the year everyone was supposed to figure out Lamar Jackson.
– Clutch 4th down, beats Mahomes
– GW drive in 64 seconds
– Smokes 3-0 DEN
– 442 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT
– OT comeback
– Blows out LAC
– Winningest QB before age 25 pic.twitter.com/BlXfAuqXaA
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) October 18, 2021
The teamwork between Jackson and his head coach John Harbaugh has been enjoyable to watch also.
It is a genuine respect for each other and mutual love of the game that makes these two such a powerful duo.
Must See TV
This game is one to watch on Sunday afternoon, October 24, 2021 at 1:00 PM EDT.
It is hard to say who will win, but a hard fought and competitive battle between the two young quarterbacks and their teams should definitely be expected.
— Good Morning Football (@gmfb) October 21, 2021
While it will be headlined as the battle among the quarterbacks with the Bengals being the underdog with the most to gain, it could come down to defensive play.
Either way, it will be a thrilling game between two teams with winning records.