Can Joe Burrow lead the Cincinnati Bengals to playoff contention?

It’s not necessarily too surprising that Joe Burrow has been a godsend to the Cincinnati Bengals’ organization since they made him the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Burrow, 24, was seen as a generational quarterback heading into the annual event after a record-breaking senior season with LSU. The Iowa native tallied over 6,000 total yards with 65 touchdowns against six interceptions in his final season with the Tigers.

Now a sophomore in the NFL and coming off a torn ACL, Burrow has his Bengals at 2-1 on the season heading into Thursday night’s contest with the Jacksonville Jaguars. It’s a matchup that pits the previous two top picks against one another with Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence looking to earn his first ever NFL win.

A win here would send Cincinnati to a 3-1 record and make the team legitimate playoff contenders in the AFC. Here’s why that could happen.

Cincinnati Bengals are a different team with Joe Burrow

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Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) paces the sideline in the third quarter during a Week 3 NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh ( Kareem Elgazzar via Imagn Content Services, LLC)

Since he made his NFL debut back in September of 2020, Burrow has posted a 4-8-1 record as a starter. Other Bengals quarterbacks are 2-7 during that span.

But it’s more about competitiveness in the losses. Of Burrow’s eight losses, five have come by one score. That includes a Week 2 game against the Chicago Bears that saw the still-young quarterback throw interceptions on three consecutive passes.

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While Burrow still has a lot to learn to be a franchise-type quarterback in the NFL, he’s helped turn the Bengals into a more competitive team.

Cincinnati Bengals have the talent for Joe Burrow

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Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) celebrates with wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (1) after they connect for Chase’s career-first touchdown in the second quarter of the NFL Week One game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Minnesota Vikings at Paul Brown Stadium in downtown Cincinnati on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021. The Bengals led 14-7 at halftime ( Sam Greene via Imagn Content Services, LLC)

After a preseason filled with drops, rookie No. 5 pick Ja’Marr Chase has been brilliant through his first three regular-season games. Chase, 21, has caught 11 passes for 220 yards and four touchdowns while hauling in 69% of his targets from the wide receiver’s former teammate at LSU.

What can’t go unnoticed in all of this is the fact that Burrow and Chase absolutely dominated with the Tigers. That included the two connecting on 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns en route to bringing a national title home to Baton Rouge back in 2019.

In addition to Chase, Burrow has third-year pass-catcher Tee Higgins to throw the ball to. While Higgins is sidelined for Thursday night’s game to injury, the Clemson product has tallied 77 receptions for 1,026 yards in 18 career games. Meanwhile, veteran Tyler Boyd is coming off a three-year span that saw him average nearly 1,000 receiving yards.

None of this takes into account the presence of stud running back Joe Mixon in the backfield with Joe Burrow. Prior to an injury-plagued 2020 campaign, the Oklahoma product had put up consecutive seasons with north of 1,400 total yards. This year alone, he’s gained 315 total yards in three games.

There’s certainly still faults with these Bengals. You don’t magically become a contender from the wrath of irrelevance. But Burrow has this team on an upward trajectory. And with the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers having taken a step back in the AFC North, the picking might be ripe for Burrow to lead Cincinnati to a surprising playoff appearance.

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