Both the Cincinnati Bengals and Atlanta Falcons are rolling along with undefeated starts to the 2015 NFL season, but bettors and fans alike remains skeptical from a Super Bowl contender standpoints considering the team's recent histories. We're not cynical like others have proven to be, but we're still wondering -- who has the better chance at a Super Bowl, Falcons or Bengals.
Let's break it down into three categories and go from there: offense, defense and intangibles.
Both offenses sport top-ten NFL rankings in passing yards per game (Bengals 5th, Falcons 8th), rushing yards per game (Bengals 10th, Falcons 9th), along with sitting in the top four for points score per contest (Falcons 3rd, Bengals 4th). A year ago, we'd have taken the Bengals offense hands down due to the pass happy, one-dimensional nature of the Falcons offense. Sophomore RB Devonta Freeman, however, has changed all that.
Freeman became the first running back since the NFL merger to run for three touchdowns in each of his first two starts, providing the Falcons with the most legit rushing threat they've had perhaps since the days of Jamal Anderson. With him in tow, Atlanta's passing game is thriving thanks to Freeman opening up one-on-one coverage in the passing game. When Julio Jones is catching passes, that's a heck of a luxury to have.
On the other side, Andy Dalton is having the best five-game stretch of his career -- posting a QB rating of 115.6 with 1,518 yards passing, 11 touchdowns and two picks. He's operating as the reverse of Devonta Freeman, forcing safeties and cornerbacks to play back and giving Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard room for extra yards in the second level. Right now, we're leaning Bengals because Dalton has been more consistent all around than Matt Ryan from a production standpoint and Freeman is still an unproven commodity as a full-season RB.
Atlanta's defense has received a jolt under new head coach Dan Quinn. The former architect of the Seattle Seahawks' vaunted Legion of Boom has turned a no-name crew into a league average squad in points allowed per game (15th). That's saying something for a unit that was putrid in almost every facet last year. They are still very iffy against the pass though (298.8 ypg) -- the result of a very inconsistent pass rush.
However, the thing which separates Atlanta from Cincinnati is run defense. The Falcons have given up just 78.4 yards per game on the ground. That's the best mark in the NFL and a credit to just how hard Quinn has pushed this unit. Cincy is 18th in run defense (108.6 ypg), functioning in a bend-but-not-break capacity. That could catch up to them eventually, especially with Le'Veon Bell still lurking on the schedule for two upcoming games.
You could make the case that the Falcons have been ahead so much that teams haven't been able to run consistently against them. That's valid, but some of that is due to the fact that Atlanta has been stuffing opponents' rushing attacks early and forcing them to operate from the pocket.
Intangibles (And Overall Prediction):
The Falcons have a bit of an "eff you" streak running through them after a dismal 2014 campaign. New HC Dan Quinn has tapped into some of last year's embarassment and brought together a group who functions daily with their ears pinned back.
However, we have to go Bengals here because of the brand-spanking new Andy Dalton. He heard the jeers about his playoff mishaps all offseason long and he's come out like gangbusters this season to prove his critics misguided. Things just feel different in Cincy this year. The Falcons are a great story, but the Bengals have four-straight years of Wild Card demons to exorcise.
Give this category and the Super Bowl nod to the Bengals. They've suffered for it and they appear unwilling to suffer any longer.
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Related Topics: Devonta Freeman, Andy Dalton, Jeremy Hill, Julio Jones, Matt Ryan, Falcons News, Gio Bernard, Bengals News