CINCINNATI — The Bengals spent their Sunday off watching other NFL games on television and enjoying a rare, free weekend. One thing they spent no time on: the standings.
Everybody else is, though.
The Bengals (8-0) had a weekend free after they beat Cleveland 31-10 on Thursday night.
When Denver lost at Indianapolis on Sunday, Cincinnati and New England were the only two AFC teams left with perfect records.
So, how far can this go? How deep in the season can the AFC North leaders get before losing a game?
“It gets talked about every week by the media,” safety George Iloka said on Monday. “Me personally, I couldn’t care less about being undefeated in the regular season. What’s 16-0 if you go 0-1 when it matters? See what I’m saying?”
The best start in franchise history is nice, but it’s overshadowed by the only thing that really matters for this Cincinnati team: Finally winning a game in the playoffs.
The Bengals haven’t done that since the 1990 season, the sixth-longest stretch of postseason futility in NFL history.
They’ve reached the playoffs each of the past four years and lost in the first round all four times, so that’s the lens they use to view that 8-0 record.
Sure, they’re in position to get home-field advantage for the start of the playoffs, but nobody in these parts cares about it until they get there and win one.
And the deeper they get into the season undefeated, the more they’re going to get the spotlight and the pressure.
“As it extends, it’s only going to get harder,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “You’ve just got to continue to be what got you there.”
History is on their side.
The Bengals, the Patriots and the Panthers in the NFC are still undefeated, the most teams to go 8-0 in NFL history. During the Super Bowl era, 21 teams have opened the season 8-0. All of those teams made the playoffs, 12 of them reached the Super Bowl and eight of them won it.
They’ll be trying to become only the 29th team in NFL history to start 9-0 when they host Houston (3-5) on Monday night. The Texans have knocked them out of the playoffs twice in the past four years.
After that game, the Bengals go to Arizona (6-2) for a Sunday night game, their third straight in prime time.
The Bengals have been particularly fortunate in terms of injuries. The only key player missing for an extended time was middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who sat out the first six games while recovering from offseason knee surgery. He’s played in the past two.
Roughly half the starters are in contract years, so it’s the last time this collection will be together regardless of what happens. That seems to have contributed to the Bengals’ success, providing a sense that this is a last chance for some of them to win a playoff game in Cincinnati.
“We’ve got enough guys hungry and at a place in their career where nobody’s relaxing,” Whitworth said.
Notes: Iloka has appealed his $23,152 fine for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Pittsburgh’s Heath Miller during the Bengals’ 16-10 win at Heinz Field on Nov. 1. Iloka said he didn’t target the tight end after he made a catch. “I thought it was a clean hit,” the safety said. “I didn’t leave my feet. I made contact with my shoulder to his shoulder. In football, your head will hit just because of momentum.”
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