Rarely does an NFL team that just made the Super Bowl fail to be recognized as a Top 3 squad entering the following season. And when it does, you’d guess it’s because the team lost its quarterback, head coach, or several critical players at multiple positions.

But the Cincinnati Bengals are bringing back Joe Burrow, Zac Taylor, and the starting trio of wide receivers that’s ranked as one of the very best in the league. They also drastically reinforced the offensive line. Not to mention, the defensive depth on this team looks nothing like it did last year as the team has added talent in just about every position.

And yet, the Bengals are not even the odds-on favorites to win the AFC North.

For most of the offseason, they’ve been ranked below or tied with the Baltimore Ravens. The Cleveland Browns have also been favorites to win the division at times but they’ve been tough to evaluate due to the uncertainty surrounding Deshaun Watson’s status.

Beyond the betting world, people are doubting the Bengals as well.

It almost seems like every Power Rankings you click on, you see Joe Burrow & Co. being snubbed over the likes of teams like the Kansas City Chiefs or the Los Angeles Chargers. Never mind that the Bengals beat the Chiefs in January. Never mind that the Chargers were not even a playoff team.

In other words, the disrespect is real for the reigning AFC Champions. And the worst part is you can’t fully dismiss the arguments against them. After all, the Bengals weren’t the perfect contender last year. Now granted, they could do it again. It would be foolish to say otherwise with the weapons they have.

But it’s impossible to deny that they put together a heck of a late-season run, needing three picks to barely edge out Ryan Tannehill’s Titans, and a miraculous comeback to defeat Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs.

Meanwhile, this healthy version of the Baltimore Ravens is a whole different team than last year’s decimated roster.

So you can at least understand why some keep doubting the Bengals.

In a recent article by Bleacher Report, however, Cincinnati gets the respect it deserves.

Analysts Maurice Moton, Brent Sobleski, and Gary Davenport ranked the 32 teams in the league and merged into a consensus. Here’s how Davenport explains Cincinnati’s spot as the third-best team in the league:

“The Bengals didn’t just address their biggest need in the offseason, they attacked it with the ferocity of a Bengal tiger. La’El Collins, Alex Cappa, and Ted Karras are all capable veteran offensive linemen. If you thought Burrow was a headache for defenses before, wait until he actually has time to read the field and find mismatches.”

Finally! Feels nice, huh?

In a recent piece from A to Z Sports Film Room, film specialist James Foster perfectly summed up Zac Taylor’s offense. It wasn’t a complicated scheme at all. It highly depended on letting Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase win with their pure talent. That’s why the Bengals ran a high percentage of isolated go routes to the rookie.

That was when working with one of the worst offensive lines in the league. If you liked what you saw from Burrow in 2021 and believe him to be a quarterback capable of elevating those around him, why wouldn’t you be high on Cincinnati’s attack now that the star quarterback will have cleaner pockets to work from?

Although it remains difficult to make a pick for who’s winning the AFC North, the truth is I wouldn’t oppose anybody ranking the Bengals at #1 just based on what we know Burrow and his receiving core can bring to the table.

Featured image via Sam Greene/USA TODAY NETWORK / USA TODAY NETWORK