Cincinnati Bengals: AFC Contenders in 2023

The Cincinnati Bengals entered the 2023 NFL season with the expectation that their championship window might be closing fast. After giving superstar quarterback Joe Burrow his first contract extension, the largest in the history of the league by average annual value (AAV) at five years and $275 million, there’s going to be a lot less money to spread around and flesh out the rest of the roster once the extension formally kicks in at the end of next season.

Cincinnati Bengals AFC Contenders in 2023

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Duke Tobin’s Roster Construction

With Burrow already set to get a pay raise in 2024 with his fifth-year option, Bengals’ director of player personnel Duke Tobin is going to have to make some impossibly hard choices regarding the players he retains or parts ways with. No. 2 receiver Tee Higgins is widely expected to leave in free agency this offseason, so for many Bengals fans it might feel like it’s now or never if the team is going to win their first Super Bowl championship in team history. That might sound a little harsh given Burrow’s high level of play, not to mention the fact that he’s just 26 years old, but it has been notoriously hard for teams to win it all when they’re paying their quarterback the big bucks. That’s why Tom Brady took pay cuts with the New England Patriots for years.

The Bengals are loaded with playmakers, be it Ja’Marr Chase, Higgins, running back Joe Mixon or third option Tyler Boyd, so opposing defenses are forced to pick their poison. Even if one player is having a bad game, there are still so many ways the rest of the team can beat you. 

Cincinnati’s offense is firing on all cylinders right now after an ugly skid to start the season, and in a year where there seems to be a handful of good NFL teams — but none that are truly great — the time is ripe for the Bengals to capitalize.

Bengals’ Super Bowl Odds

It’s only natural to begin by addressing the elephant in the room. Right now the Bengals sit at or around +1000 to win it all this season, the fifth-best odds in the NFL, third-best in the AFC, and second-best in their own division: you can bet on them to do so here with ESPN Ohio promo codes. After a 1-3 start to the season that had fans dancing on Cincinnati’s grave, pointing out the roster’s flaws and giving the team no chance of making the playoffs, the Bengals are right back in the thick of things at 5-3. If the playoffs began today, Cincinnati would be the last team in the AFC… but they’re probably going to improve their seeding significantly over the next two months. 

The Bengals sit in last place in the AFC North right now, but that position is deceptive. Both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns sport matching 5-3 records, so if Cincinnati wins their next game and both of those teams lose, they could vault as high as the No. 5 seed with relative ease. It seems like the odds makers expect exactly that to happen, as the Bengals have the second-best odds of winning the division behind the currently-leading Ravens. They’ve done an excellent job of digging themselves out of that early hole, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. 

Cincinnati’s Top Competitors

As I stated earlier, there aren’t any truly great teams in the NFL this season: there are a handful of solid clubs, but no one who I’m ready to pencil in as champions just yet. That gives Cincinnati an automatic boost, as many teams throughout history have seen their ceiling limited by the talent of the teams they compete against: the Buffalo Bills were the class of the AFC in the early 1990s, for instance, but it didn’t end up mattering because teams like Dallas, New York, and Washington in the NFC were still able to boat race them in the Super Bowl. 

Cincinnati’s top competitors in the AFC this season are the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens. The Chiefs are always going to be a threat with two-time MVP Patrick Mahomes, even if they’ve looked shaky at times this season with a subpar receiving corps.

Baltimore, on the other hand, looks like an excellent pick to win it all. They finally have a balanced and competent offense under new coordinator Todd Monken, and their defense is the best in the entire league by points allowed per game. 

The Bengals have shown repeatedly in the last two seasons that they can beat both of those teams, though, so it’s not like they have some intangible hurdle to clear on their path to a championship. 

In Summary

The Cincinnati Bengals are facing a pivotal NFL season, with superstar quarterback Joe Burrow’s massive contract extension on the horizon. Despite financial constraints, the Bengals boast a talented roster, including Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Joe Mixon, and Tyler Boyd, making them a versatile offensive threat. They’ve rebounded from a shaky start and currently hold the fifth-best odds in the NFL to win it all this season.

While the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens present stiff competition in the AFC, the Bengals have proven their ability to defeat these teams in recent years. In a season without a dominant force, Cincinnati has a real chance to pursue championship glory and make a mark in NFL history.

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