Don’t look now, but the state of Ohio has become relevant again. The AFC North is arguably the toughest conference in the AFC. Unlike the AFC West, there usually isn’t a dominant team overtaking the division for a span of time. With the trouncing of the former top dog of the division in the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cincinnati Bengals have turned heads and silenced critics.
The sidelines have been chill since Joe Burrow got his Christmas wish in his former teammate and rookie of the year candidate in Lamar Chase. Analyst and sports heads heavily criticized the Bengals organization for passing on Penei Sewell, the Oregon offensive lineman that is now burdened in keeping Jared Goff of Detroit clean. Instead, Chase has been a security blanket to Linus, driving opposing secondaries peanuts.
The offensive line has been under attack for some time in the city west of Cleveland. Yet unlike Cleveland, Cincinnati has tasted success in the form of playoff appearances and winning records. No one predicted or expected the early success, but who dey doesn’t matter outside of the city. Jonah Williams is healthy and has received a passing grade so far in keeping Joe Burrow clean.
The Bengals defense has been slept on more than a public park bench. The departure of Geno Atkins has opened the door for other players to shine. Sam Hubbard, Jessie Bates, Trey Hendrickson, and Logan Wilson have joined Vonn Bell in making people reassess how they see and treat their opponents. Not every team is going to have all-star players. But not every team has slowed down high octane offenses like Minnesota and Pittsburgh. While the Chicago Bears game was within their grasp, the future looks bright for the city once known for WKRP and the Icky Shuffle.
Vegas and four-letter networks had the Bengals at the bottom of the division, but not with a Thursday night tilt against a struggling and young Jaguars team; the Cincinnati Bengals can become the standard in the AFC North, instead of the punchline. While the state of professional football in Ohio has raised up, the college dynamic has taken a step back. But the game of football was born, raised, and housed in Ohio. It’s only fitting that the state reminds the other 30 teams that coming in jovial doesn’t mean you’ll leave happy. It’s time to collect on some past receipts, and with weapons like Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd to make like easier for Tee Higgins, the leopards are looking to maim opponents with skill, speed, and tenacity.
Come to Ohio hydrated. Make sure that the film study reveals something that wasn’t present before. Cincinnati is living proof that we can’t judge a book by its cover, and regardless if you’re a Panther, Jaguar, Lion, or Bengal, you should never count a cat out. Watch your mouth, and be sure that your lips are prepared for the Chili that Cincinnati is serving.