The Cincinnati Bengals rightfully hoped former LSU star quarterback Joe Burrow would lead them back to the postseason. However, few in the organization may have expected it to happen this quickly.
In large part because the 2019 Heisman Trophy winner has taken a monumental jump in his second season, the Bengals entered Week 17 of the 2021 NFL season at 9-6 and are in prime position to win the AFC North Division. Cincinnati has already clinched its first winning season since 2015 and is apace to reach the postseason for the sixth time in 13 years.
Although they’re still searching for their first Super Bowl victory, the Bengals remain extremely familiar with postseason play.
The Cincinnati Bengals are chasing their fifth AFC North title since 2002
Technically, the Bengals have played in the AFC North since 1970, 32 years before the division existed. Back then, the division was called the AFC Central, a title it held until the most recent round of divisional realignment occurred ahead of the 2002 season.
The Bengals’ next division title will be their fifth since 2002. Cincinnati previously won the AFC North in 2005, 2009, 2013, and 2015. All of those victories came under Marvin Lewis, who coached the Bengals from 2003-19 and turned the organization around after a dreadful period in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Cincinnati also reached the postseason as a wild-card team in 2011 and 2014. Unfortunately for Bengals fans, the team lost in the first round each time.
As of December 2021, the Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since routing the Houston Oilers, 41-14, on Jan. 6, 1991. The then-Los Angeles Raiders defeated the Bengals, 20-10, in the following week’s AFC Divisional Round game.
Cincinnati won another six division titles when they played in the AFC Central
After playing their first two seasons in the AFL West, the Bengals moved into the newly-formed AFC Central. For over 20 years, the Bengals played in a four-team division with the Oilers, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Cincinnati won the division six times from 1970-1990. Before embarking on a lengthy Super Bowl drought, the Bengals reached the Big Game twice in that span, facing Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers both times. San Francisco won 26-21 in January 1982 and, courtesy of Montana’s 92-yard scoring drive late in the fourth quarter, emerged victorious when the two squared off again seven years later.
Ken Anderson went 91-81 as Cincinnati’s starting quarterback and helped win the Central three times throughout the 1970s and early 80s. Anderson’s replacement, four-time Pro Bowl selection Boomer Esiason, led the Bengals to division titles in 1988 and 1990.
The Bengals have won more AFC North/Central division titles than most of their rivals
With 10 division titles in 52 years, the Bengals aren’t exactly the Dallas Cowboys or New England Patriots of the AFC North. However, those 10 titles still rank second in AFC North history, well behind the Steelers’ 24 division championships. As of December 2021, the Browns and Baltimore Ravens (née Browns) are each tied at six.
The Oilers, now the Tennessee Titans, won the Central in 1991, 1993, and 2000. After arriving in 1995, the Jacksonville Jaguars captured the division in 1999 and 2000.
Barring any drastic changes in the coming years, only Baltimore and Cincinnati will have a chance to catch Cincinnati in the all-time standings. Jacksonville and Tennessee have played in the AFC South since 2002.