The Cincinnati Bengals have made the playoffs four out of the past five seasons, they have improved their roster and they have improved their coaching–yet numerous NFL-employed analysts are saying that the Bengals will finish third in the AFC North, missing the playoffs. Bengals fans are restless; fans want a playoff win, yet they are tired of their team constantly being overlooked. The Bengals, due to their playoff experience, regular season success and lack of notoriety are the NFL’s most underrated team.
I recently wrote an article on Andy Dalton and the frustrations of doubters saying that he is the reason the franchise can’t win a playoff game that will detail the Bengals’ past success and recent history; you can find that article right here. Read this article and you will understand how Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and former Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer took a team that was supposed to finish last in the NFL to the Playoffs in Dalton and Green’s rookie year. This article will give context for the rest of this article and help you understand the Bengals’ journey.
Statistically speaking, the Bengals are one of the best NFL teams on paper. The Bengals, along with the New Orleans Saints, were the only two teams in the NFL to finish 2013 with a top 10 offense and a top 10 defense. This may not seem much at first, so take this into perspective. The Arizona Cardinals were the only other team in the NFL to finish with a top 15 offense and a top 15 defense, yet they did not even make the playoffs. For the most part, every playoff team, excluding the Saints and the Bengals, was either extremely offensively oriented or extremely defensively oriented. The Denver Broncos finished with a historically incredible offense, while the Seattle Seahawks finished with a historically incredible defense. However, the Broncos’ defense ranked 19th in the league, while the Seahawks’ offense ranked 18th in the league. To the Saints’ and Bengals’ credit, having a team that finishes in the top 10 on offense and defense is incredibly difficult and maybe not even necessary. A team’s offense needs to be good enough to put up points on the board, while keeping the defense off the field; on the other hand, the defense needs to avoid allowing points, while trying to get off of the field as quickly as possible. Finishing in the top 10 in both offense and defense showed how complete of a team the Bengals have.
The defense was Cincinnati’s biggest strength in 2013; although the Bengals finished third overall in total defense, the Bengals were the only team with a top five pass defense and a top five run defense. Even the Seahawks, led by the “Legion of Boom” did not accomplish this. Again, this accomplishment doesn’t mean that the Bengals are any better; they still have not won a playoff game. However, this accomplishment shows that Cincinnati is a lot better than their playoff record indicates.
The biggest move for the Bengals in the offseason was the promotion of Hue Jackson to Offensive Coordinator. Many skeptics criticized Andy Dalton for the Bengals’ lack of postseason success, but the real blame belongs to new Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden. Gruden did little to help Andy Dalton progress as a quarterback; Gruden babied the players on offense and did not coach with any sort of intensity. Gruden also failed to commit to the run game, so opposing defenses committed to the pass in their respective playoff matchups against the Bengals. Gruden was a poor play-caller when it mattered most, and Andy Dalton took Gruden’s flak after doing what Gruden asked him to do. Sure, Dalton needs to improve, but Gruden deserves more than half of the blame for the Bengals’ inability to win a playoff game in the Bengals’ past three appearances. Jackson’s promotion will ensure that Andy Dalton stays grounded, that Dalton will feel pressured to progress and that the running game gains importance in Cincinnati’s offense.
The Cincinnati Bengals have legitimate playoff potential, and if they can manage to make it to the playoffs, the Bengals will win their first playoff game since 1990. Although it will definitely be difficult for the Bengals to reach the playoffs with such a difficult schedule this season, the Bengals will win at least one playoff game if they reach the playoffs. And if the Bengals miss the playoffs, that’s ok; the Bengals are now set up for long-term success after signing Geno Atkins, Andy Dalton and Vontaze Burfict to long-term deals. The Bengals keep getting younger and better, and analysts need to stop overlooking them. Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling–I’m looking at you.