The Bengals are for real now because they have changed their identity. In the past, the Bengals were more concerned about flash than substance. They would get great receivers, a great quarterback and fling the ball all over the field. That style works for a while, but it rarely gets you deep into the playoffs.
Despite Carson Palmer having an outstanding season at quarterback, the major difference for the Bengals is their emphasis on running the ball and stopping the run.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is starting to model his team after the Ravens and Pittsburgh, two former teams where he was an assistant coach.