BALTIMORE - NOVEMBER 20: Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals looks to pass against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on November 20, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Bengals 31-24. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
Many aspects could be argued that this squad is sporting a better team (by definition) than the playoff squads of 2005 and 2009. They rally around each other to put together game-winning drives, leaving nothing on the field. Losses are close and wins are won in the final minutes. You sit back with your feet on the desk, fingers interlocked behind your head without being imprisoned by the emotions of the moment.
That 2005 Bengals squad was something else, if not the best overall product Marvin Lewis put on the field for any given year. Offensively dominate and defensively opportunistic, recording a league-high 44 turnovers -- including 18 interceptions against the NFC North that year. It's not like we expected the team to decline as quickly as they did. Components were established as foundation pieces, such as David Pollack, Odell Thurman, Chris Henry, Eric Steinbach, Carson Palmer, Levi Jones (only a fourth-year player in 2005), Chris Perry (who posted 51 receptions that season) among others. Little did we forecast the quick decline that would follow, ranging from serious and career-ending injuries and off-the-field problems. It was a team built to win that year and maybe the following year or two, but at the time we expected much more than what we received. Regardless that 2005 squad produced five Pro Bowlers (Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco, Willie Anderson, Deltha O'Neal, Shayne Graham) and four First-Team All-Pro award winners (Palmer, Chad, Anderson, O'Neal), along with Rudi Johnson who currently holds the team's single-season rushing record of 1,458 yards.
The 2009 squad was simply a surprise. After going 4-11-1 in 2008 with Ryan Fitzpatrick quarterbacking this team through 12 games, high expectations weren't prevalent, even if Carson Palmer was returning from an elbow injury. Still Cincinnati won seven of their first nine, riding the shoulders of a completely redefined offense that trusted and depended on running back Cedric Benson and the league's fourth defense. It was also a redefined Carson Palmer, at least for a time in the first half, leading the team with multiple last-second touchdowns, specifically against the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. Though Cincinnati would eventually lose steam and struggle in the second half, the Bengals still swept the division, winning the AFC North title for the second time in five seasons.
Though the season is only ten games old, Cincinnati's squad this year is composed of many components. It's a more balanced and well-rounded offense, even though one component this year is better than Cincinnati's 2005 squad -- the tight end position. Though Andy Dalton has surprised us with his calm demeanor and leadership, Carson Palmer in 2005 was one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. Rudi Johnson and Chris Perry were more productive than Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott, though Brian Leonard is such a factor that he can't be disregarded. A.J. Green won't reach Chad Johnson's numbers that year, nor will Jerome Simpson or Andre Caldwell produce as much as T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Yet Green is only three touchdowns shy of Johnson that year and Jerome Simpson is averaging four yards or more per reception than Houshmandzadeh in 2005. There is no one on this squad that's anything close to resembling Chris Henry. The respective defenses in 2005 and 2011 couldn't be further apart. Whereas the 2005 squad would force the most turnovers in the NFL that year, the 2011 defense depends on simply preventing the opposing offense from scoring.
Knowing what we know right now, where would you compare this squad with previous Marvin Lewis playoff teams?