Senior NFL Columnist

Power Rankings: After painful start, Bengals primed for playoff push

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There's always a team in mid-November that seems ready to make a real playoff push after a slow start.

Many would say this year's team in that role is the New Orleans Saints.

I say it's the Cincinnati Bengals.

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The Bengals have won two consecutive games -- including blowing out the Super Bowl-champion Giants two weeks ago -- to get to 5-5, and they have a tissue-soft schedule that will make a run not only possible, but likely.

Here are the Bengals' next four games: Home against Oakland, at San Diego, home against Dallas, at Philadelphia. Not one of those opponents has a winning record. That stretch seemed brutal when the season started. Not anymore.

The Bengals close out the season with two AFC North games, one at Pittsburgh and one at home against the Ravens. Get a split, and they might be in.

They are 17th in our CBSSports.com Power Rankings this week, but I have a sneaky feeling a month from now they will be a lot higher.

The biggest difference with this Bengals team and the one from earlier in the season is its defense. It's getting healthy. They had a lot of injury issues early on and had to fight through them.

On offense, they have started to run the ball better, which will help take some of the pressure off the downfield passing game. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had his first 100-yard game as a Bengal in Sunday's victory over the Chiefs.

Second-year quarterback Andy Dalton has played better in the past couple of weeks -- putting aside any talk of a sophomore slump -- and A.J. Green continues to be sensational at wide receiver. What's more, some younger receivers, like rookie Mohamed Sanu, are starting to make plays.

I picked the Bengals to win the AFC North. That's probably not going to happen. But I still think they have a real shot to be a playoff team. They trail the Steelers and the Colts by a game in the race for the final AFC spot. The Steelers have quarterback issues and the Colts are a young team that was exposed some in New England.

Three weeks ago many were laughing at my pick of the Bengals in the playoffs. Not so much anymore, right?

RANK TEAM MOVE (LW)

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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