Doubters persist, but the Bengals believe they are ‘the hottest thing smoking’

·3 min read

Joe Mixon isn’t wrong.

Here’s what the Cincinnati Bengals star running back told Charlie Walter, formerly of WLEX-TV now of KPIX in San Francisco:

“To be honest, I feel like we might be the hottest thing smoking in the NFL on Sundays.”

That’s right, the Bengals. The Cincinnati Bengals. The surprise team that won the AFC title last year and lost by a measly three points (23-20) to the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI. The Bengals with Joe Burrow at quarterback, Mixon at running back, a trio of star receivers, an improving defense and possibly the best place-kicker in the game.

“The best thing about it is we’ve been there before and know how to get there,” Mixon told Walter.

Few are picking Zac Taylor’s team to get back there, however. Precedent is not on Cincinnati’s side. The last NFL team to lose in the Super Bowl one year and return to the Super Bowl the next year was the Buffalo Bills in 1994. It was the Bills’ fourth straight trip to the sport’s ultimate game. The Bills lost all four.

The betting public doesn’t seem to like the Bengals’ chances, either. DraftKings’ latest Super Bowl LVII odds list Buffalo as not just tops in the AFC but the overall favorite. Kansas City, the Los Angeles Chargers, the Denver Broncos and the Cleveland Browns are all AFC team with better odds of reaching Glendale, Arizona, than the Bengals.

The pessimism exists even though the 2022 Bengals should be improved in an important area — the offensive line. Director of player personnel Duke Tobin put owner Mike Brown’s open wallet to good use by signing free agents La’el Collins (right tackle), Ted Karras (center) and Alex Cappa (right guard) to protect Burrow, who was sacked 51 times last season.

The additions prompted Pro Football Focus to rank Cincinnati’s offensive line as the eighth-best in the league. “Add to the fact that (left tackle) Jonah Williams and (left guard) Jackson Carman were high draft picks on rookie deals who could develop in 2022, and it’s easy to see why hopes are high in Cincinnati.”

Everything starts with Burrow, of course. Heading into his third season, the 25-year-old quarterback is the team’s undisputed leader, the player who has turned around the franchise and the city. After his rookie season abruptly ended after 10 games because of a torn ACL, a healthy Burrow threw for 34 touchdowns with just 14 interceptions a season ago. He should do nothing but improve.

The same can be expected of breakout wide-out Ja’Marr Chase, last year’s No. 5 overall draft pick who caught 81 passes for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns in his rookie campaign. With Chase, Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, the Bengals may boast the best receiving trio in the league.

The Bengals ranked 18th in total defense last season, but came through in the playoffs. They held Las Vegas to 19 points, Tennessee to 16 and Kansas City to a game-tying field goal when the Chiefs had a first-and-goal at the Cincinnati 5-yard line on the final possession of regulation. The Bengals won the game 27-24 in overtime.

Cincinnati’s 2022 draft was all about defense. To strengthen the secondary, the Bengals picked Michigan safety Daxton Hill in the first round, Nebraska corner Cam Taylor-Britt in the second and Toledo safety Tycen Anderson in the fifth. Up front, they added Florida defensive lineman Zachary Carter in the third round.

Cincinnati running back Joe Mixon rushed for a career high 1,205 yards and 13 touchdowns during the Bengals’ Super Bowl season.
Cincinnati running back Joe Mixon rushed for a career high 1,205 yards and 13 touchdowns during the Bengals’ Super Bowl season.

Thanks to finishing first in the division, the Bengals’ schedule will be tougher. And after winning just six games in the previous two seasons, the 2021 Bengals no doubt surprised a few foes. That won’t happen in 2022.

Still, the talent is there. So is the know-how. The Bengals know the way to the Super Bowl. Can they get back?

Said Mixon, “With the talent we got and who we added onto this year, I feel like we’re bound to have a hell of a season.”

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