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The Bengals? Yeah, they're for real…

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Somebody wake me, or is it 1989 all over again? The Cincinnati Bengals are tied for first place in the AFC North with the Baltimore Ravens at 3-1, and they're one crazy Immaculate Deflection away from 4-0. What in the name of Boobie Clark is going on here?

Well, it might be a bit early to start ordering Super Bowl tickets just yet. The Bengals did let the horrible Cleveland Browns hang around far too long in their 23-20 overtime win over their in-state rivals -- when you make Derek Anderson(notes) look halfway decent, there are pass defense issues, and the Bengals had a string of eight straight possessions that ended with a three-and-out or worse. But Cincinnati fans have reason to be encouraged for the first time since 2005, in a way that has been far too infrequent over the last two decades. The Bengals' offensive and defensive lines are playing at impressive levels, Cedric Benson(notes) has returned from the Witness Protection Program and the Carson Palmer(notes)-to-Chad Ochocinco combo seems to be back on track.

But it's also about the unheralded contributors, guys like running back Brian Leonard(notes), receiver Andre Caldwell(notes) and noted horsecollar maven Roy E. Williams. These Bengals may have come across a bit jokey and undefined in "Hard Knocks" this preseason, but they're no laughing matter. Next Sunday, they travel to Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium for a real pier-sixer with the Ravens for control of the division. If they can pull off what will surely be an upset against the Ravens, it will be time to talk about the Cincinnati Bengals as one of the league's better teams.

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