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Bengals are running away with AFC North

The Cincinnati Bengals have made the playoffs for four consecutive seasons, and yet they have not won a single playoff game since 1991. This is a fact that most football fans hailing from the Queen City are both familiar with and intensely sick of.

Cincinnati has always been that team which seems to threaten in the regular season, but never quite makes you a believer come January, especially under head coach Marvin Lewis. Lewis has been with the franchise for more than a decade and is easily their most successful coach since Sam Wyche, but he is missing that run of success when the crucible is at its hottest.

The good news? This Bengals team appears to be different than all the others in recent memory. After starting the season 4-0 with wins over the San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens, many folks around the United States expected the Bengals to do a full-on Bengals against the two-time NFC champions, the Seattle Seahawks.

For a majority of Sunday, that is exactly what was happening at Paul Brown Stadium. Despite playing without star running back Marshawn Lynch and with a lousy offensive line, the Seahawks took a 24-7 lead and appeared to be showcasing that the Bengals are once again a paper tiger. Yet, this game might have been the turning point. Andy Dalton led a charge and brought Cincinnati back, eventually scoring 17 unanswered points and sending the game into overtime. From there, it was kicker Mike Nugent hitting a game-winning field goal, with a little help from the left upright.

At 5-0, the Bengals are tied with the Denver Broncos for the best record in the AFC, sitting a half-game ahead of the New England Patriots. Cincinnati is also in firm control of the AFC North, as it looks to win its second division title in three seasons.

The Bengals have an opportunity to blow the division wide open. Cincinnati is already leading the second-place Pittsburgh Steelers by two games and has a three-game cushion over the Cleveland Browns. Many believed the Baltimore Ravens would be the biggest challenger to Cincinnati, but they are 1-4 and already have two divisional losses, including a defeat at home against the Bengals.

If Cincinnati can get home-field advantage and a BYE week, it would give the Bengals their best chance to make a deep postseason run since the late 1980s. Under Lewis, Cincinnati has won plenty of AFC North titles but has never earned a week off. Getting through the Wild Card round without having to win a game would be a beautiful thing.

If Dalton can continue his hot play and the defense continually improves throughout the season, the Bengals might just be the biggest challenger to the Patriots in the AFC come January.

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