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3 reasons why Cincinnati Bengals are legit Super Bowl contenders

Last year the Cincinnati Bengals emerged out of nowhere to reach the Super Bowl. It was an incredible ride that no one saw coming.

After all, they earned the No. 1 overall pick just the year prior, in which they wisely decided to take Joe Burrow out of LSU, giving the Bengals a true franchise quarterback. Even then, the Bengals still finished 4-11-1 and once again earned a top pick, selecting receiver Ja’Marr Chase fifth overall, also out of LSU, exchanging Tiger fangs for Bengal stripes.

When the Bengals were facing immense pressure to improve the protection around their new cornerstone QB, such as picking Penei Sewell out of Oregon to give Cincinnati a bookend left tackle, they instead wanted to add to their weapon cache. These two decisions proved to be excellent moves that would drastically alter the franchise’s direction.

But still, no one thought the Bengals would go from worst in the AFC East to reaching the Super Bowl in Burrow’s second NFL season, reaching the big game quicker than any other No. 1 overall pick in league history.

While they didn’t win a year ago, the Bengals are back to being one of the NFL’s best teams in 2022, and we’d argue Burreaux has what it takes to win the Lombardi Trophy in February. Here’s why.

Related: Super Bowl odds: Every team’s championship futures for 2022-23 NFL season

Cincinnati Bengals’ skill position players are unrivaled

NFL: AFC Championship-Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs
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Aside from quarterback, if there’s one position that may be as important as any other in football, it’s wide receiver. Without a game-changing playmaker, we just don’t see offenses consistently show up on game day. But when you have a player such as Chase, who’s nearly unstoppable, there’s not much question that the Bengals can hang with any team that shows up to the yard.

Whether it’s the Chiefs (who Burrow has beaten all three times he’s faced them), the Eagles, or the Cowboys (all top-three scoring offenses), the Bengals have enough offensive firepower to outpace them all.

Chase is easily a top-five receiver, Tee Higgins is an annual lock for 1,000 yards or more, and Tyler Boyd is the third receiver? Are you kidding me? He’s good enough to be most teams’ second-best option. It’s simply unfair.

We haven’t even talked about the tank waiting in the backfield, Joe Mixon. He’s a 6-foot-1, 220-pound load who mixed speed and power to tire out defenses, whether it’s early on to establish the running game or to run out game clock with a late lead. Either way, he receives just 16 touches per game but is still on pace to top the 1,000-yard benchmark. It’s an impressive feat.

Combined with the four above-average players, plus Hayden Hurst to add another seam-stretcher, the Bengals have one of the best skill position groups in football, giving Joe Sheisty everything needed to flourish night in, night out.

Related: Predicting NFL playoff bracket and Super Bowl 2023 winner

Bengals’ defense and offensive line are much improved

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at New York Jets
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Joe Brrr and the Bengals’ offense was not the problem in Super Bowl LVI. Some might suggest the Bengals allowing seven sacks, albeit with Aaron Donald on the chase, was the biggest reason for Cincinnati’s eventual downfall.

The Bengals made big changes over the offseason to address such concerns, and they now have three new starters along the right side of the offensive line. After signing Ted Karras, Alex Cappa, and La’el Collins, Burrow’s been sacked at the lowest rate of his career on 7.2% of his dropbacks. It’s still not a good mark, but it’s better than last season’s rate of 8.9%.

Defensively, the Bengals are also improved, allowing fewer points per game than last season, at 21.3 points per game allowed instead of 22.1. But it is an improvement. Yet one of the areas they’ve improved is in pass defense, going from allowing 248 passing yards per game to just 215, ranking 16th as opposed to 26th out of 32 defenses.

It may not seem like much, but once we look at potential playoff matchups in the AFC, improving their pass defense to quell the efforts of Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes could go a long way in the postseason.

Related: 2022 NFL defense rankings: Best NFL defenses entering Week 14

Joe Burrow has the clutch gene needed to win a Lombardi

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Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Last but not least, the Bengals have Joe Burrow. He’s a top-five QB in the NFL, is just 25, and hasn’t come close to realizing what he’s capable of just yet. But he doesn’t lack confidence, which is half the battle when it comes to competing at the highest level.

Burrow has shown time and time again that he should never be counted out. Like Tom Brady, Burrow doesn’t care what the scoreboard shows, he knows what he’s capable of.

But why shouldn’t he be? Boasting one of the top groups of pass-catchers has empowered Burrow to let it fly, and he’s thrived. A year ago, we witnessed Burrow establish himself as one of the best quarterbacks in football, leading the NFL in completion percentage at 70.4% while also showing he isn’t afraid to uncork the ball downfield, also leading in yards per attempt at 8.9 per throw.

He hasn’t changed at all. Chase’s injury was a slight setback, but as we’ve seen before, all it takes to win a Lombardi is to get hot at the right time, and the Bengals are white-hot right now, winning six of their past seven matchups.

If he can maintain this momentum deep into December, is there really a better choice to win what would be the franchise’s first-ever Super Bowl than the Bengals? We certainly wouldn’t bet against Burrow and Co, and you shouldn’t either.

Related: NFL QB Rankings: Joe Burrow shows his stripes, reaches top-five status