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The Cincinnati Bengals are coming off a magical season in which they surprised everyone and reached the Super Bowl. However, they still aren’t getting the respect they deserve.

Heading into their 2022 campaign, it appears the Bengals are still the underdogs in the AFC. Former NFL wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson even recently questioned their championship credentials.

Keyshawn Johnson questioned the Cincinnati Bengals’ championship credentials

No one knew what to expect from the Bengals in 2021. They missed the playoffs the previous five seasons and went 4-11-1 in 2020.

But quarterback Joe Burrow, the Ohio kid, changed the culture in the Queen City.

The No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft led the Bengals to a 10-7 record and an AFC North title. Cincy then beat the Las Vegas Raiders in the Wild Card Round and the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round before upsetting the two-time reigning AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs in the conference championship.

Burrow and company faced the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl 56 and led late in the game, but they eventually lost 23-20.

So, considering all they accomplished last season, expectations should be sky-high for the Bengals entering 2022, right? Former Pro Bowl wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson doesn’t even think they’re a top AFC team.

“I think they’re a good football team; there’s no question about it. But I don’t think that they are at the top of the class of the AFC conference,” he said on the May 25 episode of Keyshawn, JWill, and Max. “I know it sounds weird. They went and represented the AFC conference in the Super Bowl. But every now and then, you have a sneak-up type team that sneaks up on somebody like a Kansas City.”

He continued: “Every now and then, you get on a little magical ride, and you become the Cinderella story. And everybody likes Joe Burrow because he wore the chain, and he’s got some swag to him. … These defensive coordinators across the league, they have a different book on you now. You have more film out there. They’ve had all offseason.”

Johnson then wondered if the Bengals will be one of those teams that miss the playoffs after losing in the Super Bowl.

“It very well could be the case, given the conference, given the division,” he said.

The Cincinnati Bengals deserve more respect

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and quarterback Joe Burrow after the AFC Championship Game.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (from right) receiving the Lamar Hunt Trophy from head coach Zac Taylor after the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 30, 2022. | Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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Johnson made a solid point that the Bengals’ conference and division are tough. Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson will make things difficult for them in the AFC North. Other AFC teams like the Denver Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders, and Indianapolis Colts are also much improved.

However, the Bengals are just as good, if not better, than all those teams.

Beating Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game wasn’t just a fluke. The Bengals defeated them 34-31 in Week 17, proving their roster can compete with the best of the best.

Cincinnati’s offense, of course, has a plethora of weapons around Joe Burrow in Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and Joe Mixon. They also improved their offensive line significantly this offseason with the additions of Ted Karras, Alex Cappa, and La’el Collins. Cincy has some talented pieces on defense as well in Pro Bowl defense end Trey Hendrickson and other guys like Logan Wilson and Jessie Bates III.

Keyshawn Johnson may not have a lot of faith in the Bengals, but they like it that way. They proved everyone wrong in 2021 and have the talent to do it again in 2022.