One of the questions that's bound to be debated (endlessly) is how good/bad have the Marvin Lewis-led Bengals been? I think that this question is often hard to answer for long-term die-hard fans -- we have memories of the 90s and the early 2000s that cloud our vision, and when things go wrong -- like this season -- we're more apt to chalk it up to systemic failure as opposed to a rash of injuries, bad luck, or ill-timed offsides (Pat Sims, I'm looking at you.)
With that, I wanted to assess how good/bad the Bengals have been relative to the other AFC squads since 2003. Since the 2010 postseason is just now kicking off, this analysis will need to be updated -- so, for now, it's just 2003-2009. See the analysis after the jump....
I'm a quantitative analyst and consultant, and I know that no model is perfect-- and any model that anyone suggests is probably open to debate, so, please, as I lay out my weighting scheme here, it's designed to be simple, and easily understood -- and not to reflect real-world outcomes, satisfaction, or anything like that. The assumption here isn't that a "2 point" season is half as good as a "4 point" season, etc. Trust me, I've developed models that predict sales of pharmaceuticals with a high degree of accuracy-- I'm not shooting for incredible precision here -- just a sense of which teams have been most/least successful since 2003-- and where the Bengals fit in.
I like the idea of doing this year by year (as opposed to aggregate record), as it allows for the idea that a bad year is just that -- a bad year. A good year is just that -- a good year. Imagine how any of the Colts records might look if Peyton missed significant time. That said, the analysis tends to line up with total victories in a rough correlation.
Here's how the points were allocated. Each team could earn up to 6 points per season:
1- For being competitive. For purposes of our definition, this is having 8 losses or fewer. Rationale -- 7 losses with two weeks to go often leaves you in the playoff hunt (or can make you a division winner in the NFC or AFC West.)
1- For making the playoffs. I think this should be the goal of every season. It's unrealistic to hope you can win the Superbowl every season, but the elite franchise consistently get to this level.
1- For hosting a playoff game. Extra revenue for the owner, extra revenue for the city, prestige, and it probably means you won your division.
1- For winning a playoff game. 'Nuff said
1- Conference Champion. Also 'Nuff said
1- Superbowl Champion.
What this means is that a season like 2005 netted the Bengals 3 points - one for being competitive, one for making the playoffs, and one for the home playoff game. The Broncos and Steelers had better years that year, by virtue of actually winning some playoff games.
Here's the totals (note, I may have missed a point here or there -- feel free to check the math -- it won't change the overall picture if I missed one point.)
Note that since the 2010 totals aren't included here that the Jets will break their tie with the Bengals. KC might pass us as well, if they have a deep playoff run.
Here's my take on the analysis: There are 3 elite teams in the AFC since 2003: the Steelers, the Colts, and the Patriots (it pains me to say it -- I hate the Patriots and the Steelers.). You really didn't need my analysis to tell you that. The Chargers look like an elite team, but I think they're helped by a really poor slate in the AFC West (more on that below)-- the Raiders and Chiefs are 2 of the 6 worst teams in the examined timeframe. Beyond this, they're the only team in the top group that didn't make the Superbowl, and they only have one AFC championship game to show for it.
The next group (starting with the Chargers) is what I'll call "consistently good" -- most of the teams are competitive on a regular basis. The Chargers, Ravens, Titans, and Jets all feel about right here. Except the Jets, each of these teams scores points in 5 years of the analysis-- meaning they were at least competitive in all but 2 years of the analysis. This is the range that I think (hope? pray?) that the Bengals could live in. The "surprise" team in this set is the Broncos, who score points in 6 of the 7 years, and advanced as far as the AFC Championship game. It's easy to look at this year's disaster and forget that the Broncos are an aggregate 65-47 over the timeframe. One wonders if they'd really like to have Mike Shannahan back right about now.
The next group (starting with the Bengals) is what I'll call "inconsistently competitive" -- these teams are good, roughly every other year. The Bengals actually score points ("are competitive") in 5 of the years, which is quite good. Unfortunately, their failure to make the playoffs in 2003, 2004, and 2006 (thanks, Shayne!) significantly reduces their score -- as it should. Teams in this bracket include: Bengals, Jaguars, Chiefs, and Dolphins.
The last group (starting with the Texans) are "doormats." Rarely a threat to make the playoffs, these organizations have, frankly, been awful over the examined timeframe. Basically, think 90s Bengals with these guys. While this may seem unfair to the Texans, keep in mind that they have exactly one winning season in their history (2009). You can debate the merits of being 7-9 vs. 4-12, but in this analysis, both are equally bad.
Net, what I think this points out is that the Marvin Lewis Bengals are middle-of-the road. (Choose "mediocre" if you prefer a pejorative)-- but they're not far out of being more than that. It's not a stretch to say that they're clearly better than 6 other organizations during the timeframe-- they're also clearly worse than the top 5 organizations. They also "live" in a tough division that features a clearly elite team (Steelers) and a consistently competitive one (Ravens). Surprisingly, the analysis would say that the AFC South is the strongest in this timeframe- the Colts and Titans have been more than solid-- which may indicate that Jacksonville is the team most hurt by the division they play in (must be all that SEC speed down there.). No surprise, the AFC West is, by far, the weakest division.
It's up to everyone to decide if "middle-of-the-road" is good enough. I happen to think it's not -- but I also want to give Marvin a ton of credit for pulling the organization out of a huge, huge hole. If I'd done this analysis for the 15 years before Marvin, I don't doubt we'd be one of the two or three worst franchises in the AFC, if not the NFL. Net, even if you want Marvin gone, you've got to give him credit for what he's done. Again, 2010 isn't included in this analysis -- and it clearly makes the Bengals look slightly weaker, but doesn't really change their ranking. Can the Marvin/Mike partnership pull us from inconsistently competitive to consistently competitive? That's the open question. I think they've made steps in the right direction....whether the next step is the right one is key.
I think the tone Marvin struck at the press conference was right though. They've gotten some things done. They've got work to do. I think (again, my opinion) that this analysis shows that Marvin deserves a chance to finish it. I think this also points out that Mike Brown has been learning-- or letting Marvin make better decisions. The talent on the team is deeper, and if their offense performed to spec, they might be quite scary.
If there's one mistake that I think Mike Brown has made, it's saddling Marvin with Bob Bratkowski. If Bob goes, I'm even more excited about Marvin staying. With some creative playcalling and the ability to convert 3rd and 1, who knows where this team might be able to go. At least, this is the sense I get -- I think if it were up to Marvin, Bob would have been gone after 2007--- and I think being able to fire Bob was one of the key things that Marvin wanted-- I guess we'll see shortly.
If there's one mistake Marvin has been making it's keeping his young talent on the bench. When injuries forced his hand, he's played Simpson, Caldwell, Atkins, Dunlap, etc... but I've wondered why it took so long for clearly impact players to see the field. I also think Muckelroy is a diamond in the rough-- and should have gotten some playing time at MLB when it was clear that the season was done. (I like Dhani, I'd like to see Dhani come back-- he'd be a great backup and mentor, but we know what he can do.)
Bratkowski delenda esse.