Are The Cincinnati Bengals Finally True Contenders?

Andy Dalton and the Bengals are eying the Patriots' perch atop the AFC.

The Cincinnati Bengals are 7-0 after a last-minute victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, a win that gave them a commanding lead in the AFC North. As they prepare for a Thursday Night Football battle with Cleveland, do Andy Dalton and the Bengals -- who’ve never won a playoff game together -- really belong in the same conversation as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, the quarterbacks of the AFC’s other two undefeated teams?

The matchup between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati was notable for one other reason: It pitted the league's current two longest-tenured African-American head coaches against each other. That's an annual occurrence in this division, but it's taken on added significance this year in the midst of larger conversations about diversity in sports hiring. Major League Baseball, for instance, was on the verge of its first season since 1987 without a black manager before the Washington Nationals hired Dusty Baker this week. 

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin noted the importance of going against Bengals head man Marvin Lewis before the game. 

"As a younger African-American coach, to see him sail through the ranks is kind of a blueprint for those who have come after him," Tomlin told "I’m in that group. I’ve got a lot of respect for him on those levels." 

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton throws a pass during a 16-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 1, 2015.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton throws a pass during a 16-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 1, 2015.

HuffPost sports reporter Travis Waldron and former NFL wide receiver Donté Stallworth sit down during this week's episode of "The Second Half" podcast to talk about whether the Bengals are finally for real, and the importance of major sports leagues approaching their hiring practices with diversity in mind.

Also discussed: The NFL vows to keep Deflategate alive forever, inviting more questions about league discipline; Victor Cruz calls for guaranteed contracts amid a rash of devastating injuries; and we think the New Orleans Saints scored a few more touchdowns on the New York Giants while we were recording.

This podcast was produced, edited and engineered by Adriana Usero and Peter James Callahan, with assistance from Christine Conetta.

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