Bengals and 49ers headed in opposite directions?

Oct 8, 2023; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and Cincinnati Bengals
Oct 8, 2023; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and Cincinnati Bengals / Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It’s two franchises that have spent the last few years excelling in the postseason. The Cincinnati Bengals have as many playoff games the past two seasons (5) than they did during their first 53 years of existence from 1968-2020. The San Francisco 49ers reached Super Bowl LIV in 2019 and been to the last two conference championship games.

This season, these talented squads got off to dramatically different starts. Zac Taylor’s club dropped its first two games to their division rivals from Cleveland and Baltimore, the latter at home. The Bengals have rebounded to even their record at 3-3 after consecutive victories over the Cardinals and Seahawks. Kyle Shanahan’s team steamrolled four of its first five opponents during its 5-0 start. However, the Niners have fallen short the past two weeks in road losses to the Browns (19-17) and Vikings (22-17).

Now the teams collide Sunday afternoon in the Bay Area. So, which version of each of these defending division champions will show up? First things first for the 49ers, who will have quarterback Brock Purdy available after he was in concussion protocol a few days ago. He’s been cleared to play and hopes to rebound from a pair of shaky showings in which he threw his first three interceptions of 2022.

It’s hard to believe that with quarterback Joe Burrow, wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd and running back Tyler Boyd that the Bengals would enter Week 8 with the league’s bottom-ranked offense in terms of yards per game (256.3) and the NFL’s 31st-ranked ground game (69.8 yards per game). The good news is that five of Cincinnati’s eight offensive touchdown have some in their last two outings.

Could Taylor’s team take advantage of a suddenly-shaky Niners’ defense? On Monday night at Minnesota, Vikings’ quarterback Kirk Cousins riddled San Francisco for 378 yards and two scores and surprisingly, was not sacked by Nick Bosa and company. This was a week after the Browns ran over Steve Wilks’ unit for 160 yards on the ground.

It’s anyone’s guess what will happen on Sunday afternoon at Levi’s Stadium. Despite the recent slump, Shanahan’s squad remains atop the NFC West, with the Seattle Seahawks nipping at their heels. The Bengals, who were off in Week 7, have more work to do as the Ravens, Steelers and Browns are all at least two games above .500 and like Cincinnati, each has won its last two games.

This may be the most intriguing game on the Week 8 schedule.