The Cincinnati Bengals were a prime regression candidate prior to the beginning of the 2022 NFL season. At 10-7, the main reason they won the AFC North in 2021 was Lamar Jackson’s late-season injury. He went down when the Baltimore Ravens had the best record in the conference at 8-3, and they went winless the rest of the season.
The Bengals won the AFC North, and went on to defeat the Las Vegas Raiders in a wild-card matchup after Derek Carr threw a late interception on 4th and Goal. Derrick Henry was less than 100 percent healthy in the Divisional Round, and Ryan Tannehill threw three interceptions during that Bengals’ win. Then in the AFC Championship, Patrick Mahomes played one of the worst second halves of his NFL career as the Bengals eked out a 27-24 win against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bengals lost to the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl, 23-20.
During the offseason, the Bengals didn’t fully address their most glaring weaknesses — offensive line play — and while their defense played great in the postseason, it was not considered one of the best units in the league. And then there’s Joe Burrow. Cool, calm, and collected, but certainly not considered to be a quarterback talent like Mahomes or Josh Allen.
This season, the Bengals won their second-consecutive AFC North title, and entered the postseason as one of the hottest teams in the NFL on an eight-game winning streak. After defeating their division-rival Ravens — sans Jackson — in a bar fight of a wild-card game, they traveled to Buffalo to take on the Bills on Sunday.
The snow was falling and the fans were ready for a score to be settled. The previous Bengals vs. Bills matchup was called off when Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the Paycor Stadium turf. On Sunday, Hamlin was at the game and able to stand on his own two feet. Seeing him at the stadium was the best moment of the season.
However, the best complete team-football performance of the season was put on by the Bengals in their 27-10 victory in their Divisional-Round matchup against the Bills. They went up 14-0 on the Bills more quickly than it takes fans at the tailgate to cover Pinto Ron in ketchup and mustard.
An offensive line that went into the season as the Bengals’ biggest weakness was down two starters on top of losing La’el Collins to a knee injury just before New Year’s. Against the Bills on Sunday, the Bengals’ line went Mr. Plow on the Bills. They slid the Bills’ front seven up and down the field for 172 yards on 34 rushes.
Then Burrow, the player who is not the physical specimen that Allen is, conducted his offense to perfection. He made great throws on those first two touchdowns, and took whatever yardage was available for the rest of the game.
Even when the Bills made the game competitive, the Bengals’ physicality was too much, not only offense, but on defense as well. The Bills scored a touchdown in the second quarter, but only advanced the ball into goal-to-go territory once more the entire game. Even the 5-foot-9 Mike Hilton was a force on the field.
With all of the talk in recent weeks about coin flips, and neutral site games, the Bengals took the preseason Super Bowl favorite and folded them like construction paper in their stadium in front of their fans.
It was a truly dominating performance from a team that appeared to believe Burrow when he said that as long as he is the Bengals’ quarterback they have a chance to win the Super Bowl.
Up next for the Bengals, a rematch in the same place where they hoisted the AFC Championship trophy last season — Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. It remains to be seen what will happen with Mahomes’ ankle, and what the Bengals are going to do against Chris Jones if their offensive line is down two starters again.
But seeing that the Chiefs are favored by only one at home — when the Bills were favored by 5.5 against the Bengals — Sunday’s performance resonated with the football-watching public. The Bengals dominated the Bills, and beat whatever respect they felt that they had not yet received, from those who watched that game.