That was the last question I asked Dave Wellman (BeerRun), Anthony Cosenza and Joe Goodberry on Thursday night's podcast. Before I get to their responses, I want to tell you why I asked this question.
The 2009 season was a special one for me. It was my second season with season tickets with two friends of mine. I had tickets that were in the end zone and it was my first season since I had moved back home after spending four years in the military that the Bengals had a winning record. That year I got to go to my first playoff game in Paul Brown Stadium and I got to see more wins in person than I had ever in my entire life as a Bengals fan. It was a good year.
However, when I think back on the 2009 Bengals I know that the team wasn't nearly as good as they seemed to be in the moment. Yes they had a tough defense and Cedric Benson peaked that year, but I look at that team and I completely understand why the Bengals lost to the Jets in the first round of the playoffs -- they just weren't a solid team.
I don't have season tickets anymore, but I've watched every Bengals game this season and, from what I've seen, an argument could be made that the 2011 Bengals, led by a rookie quarterback and not Carson Palmer and without the team's all-time leading receiver, are better than the 2009 Bengals who swept the AFC North and went to the playoffs as division winners.
Here's what Dave, Anthony and Joe had to say on the subject Thursday night.
Dave: Is this team better than the 2009 Bengals? (sighs) You know, it is better than the 2009 Bengals because it's a team. Back in 2009, you still have Chad on, you still have Carson on. Cedric Benson was happy because he was being fed the ball. When 2010 came around and he wasn't getting the ball as much, he started complaining. Carson Palmer, you have to wonder how he was feeling after the 2009 season when everybody was talking about the running game and the defense and he wasn't getting any credit, though he did do some good things in 2009. You wonder if that played into his discontent in 2010. Chad still had his off-the-field activities and his distractions going on. As a result [of all of this], when the end of the season rolled around and the team had been hit by all the normal amount of injuries you get hit within a year, and they got stuck with adversity with Shayne Graham missing some field goals and problems in the playoff game against the Jets, they just pretty much fell apart, they didn't have the heart. So I would say yes, this is a better team than that. Will they go as far? I don't know but we'll see, but yes, I like this team better than the 2009 team.
Anthony: A lot of similarities between the two teams. I say yes, they are better this year, for just a variety of reasons. Them being so clutch this year is a major reason. They're coming through in games they're supposed to win and they're winning games that they maybe aren't supposed to win. It is just half the season, so we'll see. I think they're improved at a couple of positions. They get the guy they drafted in the first round that year and he's playing and starting for them this year, he wasn't doing that in '09, so that's a plus there. I think they've upgraded their No. 1 wide receiver from Chad to Green and I think they're deeper. They had a lot of injuries that year and they weren't able to cope with them that well and this year, you have Keith Rivers gone and you got two linebackers that can step in for him in Thomas Howard and Brandon Johnson. The defensive line is very deep. I think because of the depth and the makeup of this team coming through in the clutch, that's what makes them better.
Joe: I think that's a really, really tough question. That team was good. Looking back on it, it's easy to say, they lost their playoff game, but they had a lot of clutch wins, especially early in the year. They kind of got worn down and they went through a lot with Zimmer's wife and Chris Henry passing away. What ended up hurting the team is they didn't have a vertical threat. They couldn't push the ball down the field and I don't know if that was so much Carson as it was the receivers too. I mean we're just two years removed and Chad can't even get on the field for the Patriots and you saw how their receivers couldn't get open against the Steelers. So is this team better? They're more youthful, its fresh and not as stagnant so on offense I think they're definitely better even though the run game isn't as good this year as it was in 2009. I think the defenses are almost equal. This defense may be slightly better on paper. I was looking at the stats the other day and they are pretty much ahead in every category from where they were in 2009. The thing is, I didn't think that 2009 team was that good until they went into Pittsburgh and won without scoring an offensive touchdown. They won a Steelers-like game and slugged it out with them and came out on top. I think that's when we knew that the team was pretty good and we got a game coming up like that against the Steelers and if you ask me again after that, I'll be able to give you a straighter answer. But for right now I'm going to say we won't know until we get into the meat and potatoes of their schedule.
So, what do you think? Who's better, the 2009 AFC North Champion Bengals or the 2011 5-2 Bengals?