The Cincinnati Bengals have been each analyst’s nightmare final season. No one anticipated them to win the AFC North. They did. No one anticipated them to succeed in the Tremendous Bowl. They did. Now, in 2022, everyone seems to be anticipating related outcomes, perhaps not one other Tremendous Bowl look, however at the very least 10 wins and a playoff berth.
Everybody however me.
I’m going in opposition to the grain. Have I been burned by the Bengals earlier than? Completely, however very similar to after I rushed right into a relationship after the most important heartbreak of my life, I’m able to do it over again!
I’m not going to take a seat right here and say the Bengals are a worse workforce now than they have been on the finish of final season. They’re not. Certain, they misplaced T Riley Reiff and TE C.J. Uzomah, however the additions of lineman Alex Cappa, La’el Collins, Ted Karras, in addition to TE Hayden Hurst far outweigh these losses. That’s not the place I’ve a problem. My situation lies in believing the Bengals can recapture that magic that they had final 12 months. The Bengals’ inconceivable run to the Tremendous Bowl was fueled by last-minute performs, gamers having profession years, and luck.
There are simply too many query marks. For one, do we predict Trey Hendrickson will get at the very least half a sack in 11 straight video games once more, a feat that’s solely been achieved two different occasions (in a single season) because the flip of the century? Do we actually suppose Chidobe Awuzie goes to be a top-tier nook once more like he was final season after 2018, ’19, and ’20 the place his ceiling was simply above serviceable? Are we positive the Bengals will be capable to deal with a first-place schedule in a much-improved AFC?
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Let’s speak about that for a second. Let’s take into consideration what number of groups within the AFC are both actually good, actually well-coached, or vastly improved this offseason. The Chiefs are good. The Bengals play them this 12 months. The Titans have some query marks, however they’re fairly well-coached. The Bengals will play Tennessee this 12 months. The Dolphins bought higher. The Ravens bought wholesome. The Browns can have gotten higher after Watson serves his suspension. The Payments are fairly rattling good.
Let’s say the Bengals make the playoffs. They could face the Chargers. They’re higher than they have been final 12 months. The Broncos improved. The Raiders improved. The Colts improved. Each respectable workforce within the AFC bought higher, so the Bengals’ additions of Collins, Cappa, and Karras aren’t really as huge a step ahead as it could appear. I’d argue that they’re one of many lesser-improved contenders within the AFC.
The Bengals’ offense was nice final 12 months, however in soccer, you all the time need to be evolving. After a full offseason of learning the Bengals’ recreation tape, groups will alter if the Bengals’ teaching employees doesn’t begin injecting new life into their play-calling. Is Zac Taylor actually that type of coach? The type that may create new dynamic performs whereas stretching the boundaries of his personnel? I doubt it, as a result of as explosive because the Bengals’ offense was final 12 months, it was clear that Taylor was holding them again. Many followers imagine Burrow needed to win despite Taylor slightly than Taylor working to make Burrow higher. Taylor’s play-calling within the playoffs was lower than stellar and followers have been nicely conscious. Now that the Bengals aren’t catching anybody unexpectedly, the teaching goes to grow to be all of the extra necessary and Taylor hasn’t proven sufficient to warrant confidence from me.
The connection between Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase was magical final 12 months. It was explosive, thrilling, and most of all, made everybody who mentioned Chase’s preseason drops can be an issue come the common season (together with me) tuck their head between their legs and waddle away from the grownup desk at Thanksgiving in disgrace. Nonetheless, having a look at a few of these catches from final 12 months, I discover it laborious to ascertain a world the place that very same magic is captured in Year 2. Many of the explosiveness between the 2 got here on deep passes. I doubt there was anybody higher within the league on go routes than Chase. Nonetheless, Burrow’s (in)consistency on deep passes has all the time been a scorching subject when discussing the previous No. 1 general decide…till final 12 months. All these worries appeared to fade away due to how good Chase was at bringing these deep passes down. Perhaps it was an indication of what’s to return, however perhaps Burrow regresses in that division and rapidly Chase can’t convey down fairly so many. I don’t suppose that’s an unwarranted concern. I’m not saying it’s going to occur, however it’s one other “what if” that lingers at the back of my thoughts whereas making an attempt to guage this Bengals workforce.
Lastly, I do know it’s been mentioned and noticed 1,000,000 occasions, however simply because the Bengals have been within the Tremendous Bowl final 12 months doesn’t imply they’re only a piece or two away from profitable all of it. More often than not, a Tremendous Bowl look is as excessive as a workforce goes. Are you aware who else thought they have been only a piece or two away from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy? The 2016 Atlanta Falcons, the 2015 Carolina Panthers, the 2008 Arizona Cardinals, Dan Marino — you get the thought. The historical past of groups shedding within the Tremendous Bowl after which underperforming the next season is well-documented.
Simply take a look at current losers within the Tremendous Bowl. In 2020, the 2019 NFC champion San Francisco 49ers missed the playoffs completely. The 2019 Rams missed the playoffs. The 2018 Eagles reached the playoffs, solely to win one recreation due to the double doink and promptly get dropped by the Saints. The 2017 Falcons completed third of their division, and misplaced to Nick Foles within the divisional spherical. The 2016 Panthers went 6-10. The 2015 Seahawks had their worst season (record-wise) within the Russell Wilson period to that time. The 2014 Broncos noticed Peyton Manning lose to the man who changed him in Indianapolis. The 2013 49ers turned damaged after they went after Richard Sherman with a sorry receiver like Michael Crabtree. You get the thought. More often than not, a Tremendous Bowl loss is the furthest the workforce goes for a number of years.
I don’t suppose it is a unhealthy workforce by any means, however are they actually one of the best workforce within the AFC? No. Final 12 months, they squeaked via the playoffs. They gained’t get as fortunate in the identical state of affairs this time round.