Why the Cincinnati Bengals are Super Bowl contenders


The Cincinnati Bengals are one of six undefeated teams in the NFL. How good are the Bengals? Here's a closer look:

Super Bowl contender or pretender: During an open-availability period Monday, several Bengals addressed reporters as they started turning their attention to Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks. Virtually every single one said some variation of the following: "In order to be the best you have to beat the best." They are determined to get a fifth victory this weekend. Though the Seahawks might not have an undefeated record like the Bengals, they do represent something meaningful to the boys in stripes. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said it best when discussing Seattle corner Richard Sherman: "I want what he has." Kirkpatrick wants a Super Bowl ring. Attitudes like that are running rampant in the Bengals' locker room as they make a very convincing claim toward being a Super Bowl 50 contender.

Reason to be excited: Kirkpatrick said something else of note Monday when discussing how the Bengals have approached every game this season. "We have a mindset going on the field that we already won the game," Kirkpatrick said. How can you not be excited about that if you're a Bengals fan? What Kirkpatrick referenced has shown up through the first four games, all of which came against solid opponents. There's been no panic from this team, and for good reason. The Bengals have barely trailed. They've been behind for just 1 minute, 58 seconds all season.

Reason to be concerned: If the Bengals find themselves in a very close game or in need of a key late field goal, those could be some anxious moments. Kicker Mike Nugent hasn't had the best start to a season. The 11-year veteran has already missed two field goals, including a 44-yard attempt Sunday that clanked off the left post. He also missed one of the new longer point-after attempts in the season opener, prompting him to say the new PAT rules "make guys fail more." As coach Marvin Lewis said Monday, the missed field goals are something Nugent must get fixed. We've already seen many teams affected by misses this year.

What the schedule tells us: Cincinnati's schedule remains what it was when the season began: Hard. The Bengals began with the NFL's second-toughest slate. What bodes well is the fact that they have favorable patterns on the schedule. For example, as with Kansas City in Week 4, the Seahawks come to Cincinnati on short rest following a Monday night game. After facing the mobile Russell Wilson on Sunday, the Bengals will have the similarly pocket-escaping Tyrod Taylor the following week in Buffalo. Wilson could be good preparation for what they'll see in Taylor. Then, after a Week 7 bye, the Bengals have back-to-back division games ahead of another consecutive pair of them in December. Later that month they'll play during prime time in consecutive weeks. The Bengals hope this rule of twos works in their favor. ESPN's Football Power Index likes their chances, currently projecting the Bengals to win all but three of their remaining regular-season games. It also gives them the second-most-favorable odds of any AFC team to appear in the Super Bowl (behind New England).