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Bengals' record is all bark, no bite

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Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals are nothing more than average, despite their NFL ranking and 9-4-1 record. The Broncos, on the other hand, are outperforming every team in the NFL offensively.

Broncos Country is looking forward to some more Dalton sacks by Von.
Broncos Country is looking forward to some more Dalton sacks by Von.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals are playing for their division title and playoff lives in Monday night's game against the Broncos. They come from the always shuffling AFC North division, which does not contain a single team with a losing record.

Based on record and playoff implication, the Bengals are an above average team that might present a challenge. However, the AFC North has had the luxury of playing an incredibly easy schedule this season, inflating their records and giving each team a legitimate shot at the playoffs. How do the Bengals perform against their opponents compared to other teams that have been fortunate enough to play the BuccaneersJaguarsPanthers, or Falcons? How do the Broncos compare against other teams unlucky enough to play against some of the toughest defenses in the league? The results are surprisingly good for Denver, and unsurprisingly "meh" for Cincinnati:

Overall Rank by Normalized Offensive and Defensive Points
Team Normalized Offense Offensive Rank Normalized Defense Defensive Rank Normalized Difference Overall Rank NFL Rank
New England 1.40 2 0.93 12 0.47 1 1
Denver 1.41 1 0.97 16 0.45 2 3
Indianapolis 1.30 4 0.96 15 0.33 3 5
Seattle 1.08 11 0.78 4 0.30 4 7
Green Bay 1.30 3 1.02 18 0.28 5 8
Baltimore 1.12 9 0.84 5 0.28 6 11
Buffalo 1.02 15 0.76 2 0.26 7 15
Kansas City 1.07 12 0.88 6 0.19 8 13
Philadelphia 1.29 5 1.12 24 0.17 9 12
Miami 1.07 13 0.90 10 0.17 10 18
Arizona 0.91 21 0.76 3 0.15 11 2
Pittsburgh 1.21 6 1.12 23 0.09 12 10
Dallas 1.16 7 1.08 21 0.09 13 14
Houston 0.96 17 0.88 7 0.09 14 17
San Diego 1.02 14 0.94 13 0.09 15 14
Detroit 0.84 23 0.76 1 0.08 16 4
Cincinnati 0.95 18 0.88 8 0.07 17 9
St. Louis 0.94 19 0.96 14 -0.02 18 22
New Orleans 1.13 8 1.19 28 -0.06 19 20
Atlanta 1.08 10 1.17 27 -0.08 20 26
Minnesota 0.84 24 0.92 11 -0.08 21 21
NY Giants 0.98 16 1.07 20 -0.09 22 27
San Francisco 0.79 27 0.90 9 -0.11 23 16
Cleveland 0.83 25 0.98 17 -0.15 24 19
Carolina 0.88 22 1.05 19 -0.17 25 23
Chicago 0.94 20 1.21 31 -0.27 26 24
Tampa Bay 0.78 28 1.14 26 -0.37 27 31
NY Jets 0.76 30 1.12 25 -0.37 28 27
Washington 0.81 26 1.19 29 -0.39 29 28
Jacksonville 0.68 32 1.10 22 -0.43 30 29
Oakland 0.76 29 1.22 32 -0.45 31 30
Tennessee 0.73 31 1.19 30 -0.46 32 32

Using the normalized offense and defense  (the amount of points scored/allowed against an opponent compared to the average points scored/allowed against that team this season) the Bengals rank 17th. They are scoring 96% of the average total points scored against their mostly below-average opponents. However, their defense is somewhat underrated, allowed just 88% of the average points against their opponents.

The Broncos are just behind New England overall, ranking number two. Surprisingly, however, the Broncos offense is still out-performing New England. It is their defense that seems to be overrated in NFL ranking. The Broncos have played 7 6 of the top 10 defenses this season in Detroit, Buffalo, Arizona, Seattle, Kansas City (twice), San Francisco, and Miami. Cincinnati is ranked number 8, so we can add them to our tough schedule. On the other side of the ball, teams the Broncos have played offensively rank poorly, which has inflated their defensive yardage stats. However, keep in mind that the Broncos (and other offensively dominant teams) play prevent-defense in the 4th quarter and tend to allow a lot of garbage time points, which usually pushes them down in defensive ranking.

But just how hard has the Broncos schedule been this season? Comparing the Broncos' and Bengals' strength of schedule also shows the Broncos to be underrated and the Bengals to be overrated. Based on point differential, the Broncos have played the hardest schedule in the NFL, and the entire AFC West is in the top ten. The AFC North, on the other hand, had the luxury of playing the embarrassingly terrible NFC South this season, giving them a much easier schedule along with inflated point totals and records. The Bengals' opponents have allowed 269 more points than they have scored this season (not counting those against the Bengals). The Broncos' opponents have scored 403 more points than they have allowed.

Strength of Schedule by Point Differential
Rank Team Point Differential % Difference
1 Denver 403 9.94%
2 Miami 322 7.52%
3 San Diego 271 6.70%
4 Oakland 271 6.70%
5 Buffalo 183 2.87%
6 Jacksonville 116 2.65%
7 Indianapolis 77 1.82%
8 NY Jets 71 1.70%
9 New England 15 0.36%
10 Kansas City -12 -0.30%
11 Tennessee -147 -2.33%
12 Arizona -128 -3.07%
13 Seattle -135 -3.23%
14 Baltimore -167 -3.98%
15 Cleveland -205 -4.90%
16 Cincinnati -269 -6.22%
17 Green Bay -266 -6.40%
18 Dallas -266 -6.61%
19 Pittsburgh -272 -6.83%
20 Carolina -327 -7.52%
21 San Francisco -299 -7.57%
22 St. Louis -299 -7.57%
23 Houston -315 -7.58%
24 Detroit -324 -7.70%
25 Philadelphia -336 -8.19%
26 Chicago -366 -8.70%
27 Minnesota -375 -8.91%
28 NY Giants -454 -11.12%
29 New Orleans -461 -11.30%
30 Atlanta -497 -12.31%
31 Washington -608 -15.26%
32 Tampa Bay -724 -18.00%

Although the Bengals may seem like an intimidating team to play based on yardage statistics, they are nothing more than an average team. And as we have seen, they struggle under the spotlight. If the Broncos play to their ability they should have no problem defeating Andy Dalton and the Bengals.