Bengals Thursday Thoughts: Burfict Storm

All is perfect in Cincinnati, and Tez Burfict is back. Settle in for what is about to be a Cincinnati post-bye week spectacle.

Imagine a Bengals win, if you will, Sunday at Pittsburgh, improving Cincinnati to 7-0 and dropping the Steelers to 4-4.

Imagine, too, that 6-0 Denver loses to Green Bay, not a highly unlikely scenario that would make the Broncos 6-1.

That perfect storm of events would keep Cincinnati at the top of the AFC playoff seeding chase with nine more Bengals games to go (New England is 7-0 after Thursday's win over Miami).

A tidy 7-0 record would be a mighty good start for the Bengals, and a historic one, setting a franchise record for best start. It gets better with each and every win. Sunday would be monumental.

A win over the Steelers would further validate the Bengals' hot start, underscore a supposed changing of ways in big games, and reverse a recent trend in the series. Pittsburgh has won eight of the past 10 meetings against the Bengals.

If Cincinnati can come out of Pittsburgh without a loss and unscathed on the injury front as well, all the better.

The Bengals had one (1) player on Friday's injury report: defensive back Leon Hall. They returned one very big component of recent years past, linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who reunited with teammates at practice Thursday after dealing with knee surgery and subsequent rehab that stalled his ascending Pro Bowl career.

A healthy unbeaten Bengals team with all of the expected elements presents a problem for most everybody left on the schedule, including the Broncos, in what promises to be a critical late-season game in Denver.

But, first things first. The Bengals are in Pittsburgh, where things rarely go the way Cincinnati wants them. Not to mention, Ben Roethlisberger is back at quarterback with the rest of the Steelers' Bengals killers poised for battle.

Big Ben probably will only get stronger as the season progresses, if he doesn't get hurt again. The rest of the team, including an injury-compromised offensive line and an improved scoring defense, will only gain speed as the schedule hurtles onward, behind tailback Le'Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown.

A Bengals win Sunday could put some arm's length between them and their division rivals up the Ohio River in Pittsburgh. A loss would drop the Steelers to 0-2 in the division. Pittsburgh plays four of its last six games on the road.

For the Bengals, after Pittsburgh, they have the Browns twice, the Rams at home and Arizona and Carson Palmer on the road. Some believe the Bengals have already survived the toughest part of their schedule.

The Bengals can make a good showing, or they can show that they are just a mirage, over the next few weeks. After the Steelers, they play their next two games at home on national television -- a Nov. 5 Thursday night game against the Browns in Battle of Ohio I, and a Nov. 16 Monday Night Football showcase against the Texans.

The Bengals and Steelers meet again in Cincinnati Dec. 13 in what surely will be a more meaningful game with regard to playoff implications.

The NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint. The first half is looking good so far for Cincinnati. But, two Bengals losses in a row (don't laugh, Cleveland has a way of making the Bengals look bad) coupled with two straight Steelers wins would put Cincinnati at 6-2 and the Steelers at 6-3 in what is looking like a two-team AFC North race.

Things are far from settled. So, settle in for what surely will be a Cincinnati post-bye week, second-half NFL spectacle.

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