The 2021 Cincinnati Bengals shocked the football world. After being at the basement dwellers for several years, the Bengals turned it around and turned it around quickly. The team not only broke its playoff drought but won three playoff games in a row to find themselves in the Super Bowl against the LA Rams.
The Bengals got hot at the perfect time. They had an up-and-down regular season that kept them afloat and put them in a position to make a playoff push in December. And that it exactly what the team did. They won three games in a row against tough opponents to go from 7-6 to 10-6. That afforded them the ability to rest Joe Burrow in Week 18 as the team locked up the division.
While a team like the 2021 Bengals only comes along every few years, there is a perfect candidate for lightning to strike twice in the 2022 LA Chargers. It did not seem that way a month ago but after two huge wins against AFC playoff teams, the Chargers are now the main candidates to be 2022's version of the 2021 Bengals.
The similarities between the 2021 Bengals and 2022 Chargers:
As previously mentioned, the 2021 Bengals were a team that played good football was but never really in the conversation to come out of the AFC in the Super Bowl. It wasn't until later in the year that they started to pick up steam that people started to theorize about what could happen.
That same thing is now happening with the Chargers. The Chargers had larger expectations entering the season than the Bengals did last year but they were hampered by injuries. A very talented team was completely depleted and it absolutely had an impact on the record. That being said, despite the adversity, the Chargers have never had a losing season this year after Week 3.
Last year's Bengals never had a record below .500, even as they had their struggles like the 2022 Chargers have had.
The biggest propellant in the Bengals making a run was a strong defense and an elite young quarterback who made plays when they mattered most. The 2021 Bengals' defense was not great before the bye but then turned it on in the second half and started playing great. We are witnessing that exact same thing with the Chargers this year.
Justin Herbert is also one of the few quarterbacks that most people would rank ahead of Burrow. He might not have Ja'Marr Chase or Tee Higgins but he still has a great duo in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. And like Burrow a year ago, his defense is starting to step it up to pick up some of the slack when he is not perfect.
The 2021 Bengals also got pretty favorable matchups in the first two weeks of the playoffs. They got to play a Las Vegas Raiders team that was easily the worst playoff team of the 14. They then had to play the no. 1 seeded Titans, who were perhaps the worst no. 1 seed in recent memory.
The AFC is a bit tougher this year but the Chargers could see similar luck in the first two weeks. If the team manages to creep up to the fifth seed (which is possible with the Ravens losing), they would get the winner of the AFC South in the first round. That is the best possible scenario.
Then it would just depend on the results of Wild-Card Weekend who the Chargers would play as the five seed. Assuming the two and three-seed win, the Chargers would have to go take on the top seed. However, as we know, there are always upsets in Wild-Card Weekend. Perhaps a team like Miami could knock off the Chiefs, Bengals, or Bills as a wild-card team and then the Chargers would get the more favorable matchup.
There is a lot of work that needs to be done but like the Bengals last year, the Chargers are getting hot at the perfect time. They have won two in a row and have the easiest remaining schedule in the league. There is legitimately a chance that the team wins five in a row heading into the playoffs.
And if a healthy Chargers team makes it they will very obviously be the wild-card team that no one wants to face — just like the Bengals a year ago.