I Smell Dynasty

And I'm not talking about cheesy Eighties prime-time soaps.

Is "the window" opening or closing? It's a question all NFL fans ask about their teams, and in the Cincinnati Bengals' case, I think the answer is clear: the window is opening.

The Bengals, coming off a division championship, are by far the youngest team in the AFC North. In fact, the three other teams in the division all rank among the top five-oldest squads in the league, while the Bengals are right in the middle of the pack.

Even more interesting is that the response by the rest of the division to the Bengals' division-topping 2009 performance was...to get older. Here's the same numbers from last September. Going into last season, the Bengals were the seventh-youngest team in the league, while the Ravens, Browns and Steelers were 12, 21 and 26, respectively. Right now, those teams are all ranked 28+ on the youth scale.

Obviously, these figures are subject to change once camp cuts start, but to longtime fans like yours truly, accustomed to the "perpetual rebuild" strategy the front office perfected in the Nineties, and which seemed to be carrying over into the Aughts as late as 2008, this is an astonishing development.

After a blip of success in 2005, the team decayed at an astonishing rate: between the end of 2005 and the start of the 2009, the Bengals lost their center, two starting tackles, a starting RB, two high-draft-pick starting LBs, their No. 1 wideout spent a year on the crazy train, and their No. 2 WR left for Seattle despite their best efforts. By the end of the '08 train wreck, it was fair to expect that the Bengals would need a few years to dig out from the rubble.

But a funny thing happened in 2009. The Bengals, it appears, actually managed to pull off a rarely seen (in Cincinnati, at least) "reload on the fly." An offensive line consisting of a couple vets and a bunch of undrafted free agent types failed to suck. High draft picks didn't (for the most part) bust. The dumpster-diving instincts of the front office finally paid off in the person of Cedric Benson. And then there's Mike Zimmer, whose arrival can only be explained by divine intervention.

The result is that the Bengals are in a position to not just win, but to dominate the division for the foreseeable future.

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