By the time Week 5 of the 2023 season began, the Cincinnati Bengals’ chances of even making the playoffs had plummeted drastically and any momentum leftover from their previous season had quickly diminished.
Following a brutal 1-3 start to the season, and a lingering calf injury to star quarterback Joe Burrow, the Bengals were left at the bottom of their division, demoralized and frustrated. To make matters worse, two of their three losses were against division opponents, which lowered their playoff chances even more.
However, fast forward two weeks later and the Bengals are heading into their Week 7 bye after clawing their way back to a .500 record. Cincinnati looked at their matchup against the Cardinals in Week 5 as a great chance for their offense to redeem themselves, and that’s exactly what they did.
With Joe Burrow’s calf seemingly healing overnight, he went into Arizona feeling the best he had all season, and it showed in his performance. Burrow threw 46 times for 317 yards, and 3 touchdowns, which all went to his favorite target, Ja’Marr Chase. Chase made sure to match his quarterback’s stellar performance with one of his own, breaking the all-time record for single-game receptions by a Bengals receiver, with 15. Burrow and Chase left State Farm Stadium with a 34-20 win, bringing hope back to Cincinnati and reminding the rest of the league exactly what they were capable of.
The Bengals’ following game in Week 6 was expected to be a much more difficult contest however, against the 3-1 Seahawks. Despite the tough matchup, Burrow and the Bengals went into Week 6 with confidence due to their previous win, and their quarterback’s continued progression in practice. Dianna Russini of The Athletic reported on Burrow’s miraculous recovery Saturday night before the game.
“Burrow is now almost 100 percent recovered,” Russini wrote. “While he was still a bit sore this week, he ran sprints in practice for the first time since before he suffered the injury early in training camp.”
Burrow displayed the progression that he had made with his injury late in the second quarter against Seattle on a chaotic scramble where he managed to evade several sack attempts and get the ball off without any sign of discomfort. Although it wasn’t as flashy of a performance as the week before, the Bengals won 17-13 and got themselves back up to a .500 record. Cincinnati now heads into their Week 7 bye with the momentum back on their side, and improved chances at the playoffs.
When asked how impactful going into the bye with a .500 record is for the team as a whole, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor responded with plenty of hope and optimism for the remainder of Cincinnati’s 2023 season.
"It's good,” Taylor noted. “It's like I said, we kind of stubbed our toe starting this race off. And we're going to continue to pick up steam. And again, there's days where our defense is going to lead the charge and lead us to victory. There's times where the offense is going to reciprocate that. There's times special teams can take over. I think good teams just find ways to do it. And right now, we're at that 3-3 mark going into a bye. We get a chance to get healthy and then hit the surge after the bye starting with San Francisco."
After the last few weeks, Joe Burrow and the Bengals are able to go into their bye week on a high note, but the road that they have ahead of them will be far from easy. Still at the bottom of their competitive division, they have the highest strength of schedule in the league moving forward, according to Power Rankings Guru and Tankathon. Straight out of their bye week, they face the 49ers in Week 8, followed by the Bills in Week 9. Looking at their entire rest of season schedule, they will only have one or two games that could be considered “easier”, with their best matchup being against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 14.
Overall, Burrow and the Bengals have made noticeable improvement in health and performance since their disappointing start to the season, and they are certainly still in contention to make the playoffs. However, considering their current placement in a merciless division, as well as the gauntlet of matchups that they will have to endure on their way to the postseason, it is extremely possible that the Cincinnati Bengals fall short of making the playoffs altogether in 2023.