There is a long distance between bad and good in the NFL and there are a lot of stops along the way. Where exactly do the Bengals fit in?
Saying that there are just good and bad teams in the NFL is true, but it's also a massive understatement. If bad was a physical location, say somewhere on the West Coast (no offense west coasters) and good was on the East Coast (East Coasters, I said you're better than those Westies.... keep it to yourselves), it wouldn't just be a straight line, one-stop trip from point bad to point good. There would be multiple stops in between. Basically, you'd be making the trip in a tour bus. Fun!
Now that we have that established, we need to figure out where the stops are. Of course there's the first and last, but what's in between? Well, as your bus driver, I'll tell you that the pickup is what we're going to call "Really Bad," and remember it's on the West Coast (Easties... I did it again!). The next stop will be called "Bad," and we'll place it geographically in Colorado. Of course, the next stop will be "Meh," and that will be on the border of Kansas and Missouri. Next will be "Good," which will be in Indiana. And then finally, we will arrive at "Really Good," Which we'll say is Washington DC.
So now that we have that established, let's all get on the bus and, as your tour guide, I'll let you know a little about our stops.
First there is....
The really bad teams are the teams that go on the road and their opponents have some ungodly spread, like they're favored to win by 35, which doesn't often happen in the NFL, but you still don't feel comfortable betting for the really bad team to not lose by that much or more. They're consistently bad on offense, they couldn't stop a high school team from scoring on defense and their kickers couldn't hit water if they were standing on a beach. Really Bad teams get the way they are by having really bad owners and really bad coaches who make really bad decisions. They often cycle through multiple coaches in a relatively short span of time and their fans wear paper bags to cover their faces. There is always one good player who is crying because he wants to leave and where you usually hate that guy because he's still making millions of dollars, you actually kind of feel bad for him for the position he's in.
The saying "even a blind squirrel finds a nut" doesn't apply to Really Bad teams. They are nutless.
So, which team resides in Really Bad?
If you look out your window to the left, you'll see Arrowhead Stadium where the Kansas City Chiefs live. The Chiefs are worse than bad this year. Their quarterbacks are bad, their offensive line is worse. Even though they have talented receivers (see Dwayne Bowe), they don't do much good because there is literally no passing game and they can't run the ball because they're constantly down by 20 points and need to throw to catch up. Their defense is also bad.
The Chiefs don't have to be Really Bad forever, but this year they are.
And who is Really Bad when it comes to the Bengals?
Well, to be perfectly honest, I don't think Really Bad players exist in the NFL. There are too few roster spots and too much talent to let Really Bad infect it. Really bad teams come from a bad combination of Bad and Meh players.
On to the next stop, which is....
Do you remember that blind squirrel I was telling you about? The one that occasionally finds a nut? Well that's the Bad team. The Bad team is bad because they usually can't beat other teams that aren't just as bad or worse then them. Sometimes they even lose to those teams. However, the Bad team sometimes gets all worked up and (finds a nut) beats a team better than them. They have talented players and often times the team is on an upward trend having been Really Bad the year before. They are often young teams that are in rebuilding phases and can be dangerous when better teams overlook them. Coaches on bad teams tend to stick around more than on Really Bad teams, but it depends on how long the Bad team is bad. If it's an extended period of time, it's sayonara, but if it's just one year, or maybe two, owners will keep them around.
Let's see which team resides in Bad.
If you look out the windows on the right, you'll see the Cleveland Browns. The Browns have been Really Bad or Bad for some time now, but that doesn't mean that there isn't hope because there is. With Trent Richardson, who is obviously the real deal, in the backfield and with the right quarterback (is that Brandon Weeden?) and some more talent at the receiver position, the Browns can climb right up the ladder. However, right now the Browns aren't quite there yet. They will lose the majority of their games to both good and bad teams, but they will also scare the pants off some good teams as well. The Browns are steadily improving, but not enough this year to not be considered a bad team.
And who is Bad when it comes to the Bengals?
Jeff Faine is bad, but he's not alone. There are others. One of the worst things that could have happened to the Bengals line is losing Kyle Cook, especially with two inexperienced guards on either sides. Center is an important position and with Faine in between a rookie and a second-year guard who has played in just a few games prior to this year, the interior line will suffer and it has. Other bad players include Taylor Mays (he is... I'm sorry but he is) and Chris Crocker and a few others
Back on the bus to the next stop, which is.....
People who aren't fans of Meh teams seem to forget that Meh teams exist. They aren't good, they aren't bad, they're just there. They won't make the playoffs but they won't get a top pick in the draft either. They'll float around somewhere in the middle, beat some good teams, beat some bad teams and lose to some of both too. Meh teams make mistakes and then look excellent in the same drive and the difference between them and the good teams is that those mistakes don't get corrected. They continue to make them. Meh coaches have had successful seasons and terrible seasons with the same team so they tend to stick around until someone finally realizes that Meh could be Good with the right person leading it. Until that realization is made, the good years will follow bad years and bad years will follow good years and so on.
So which team resides in Meh?
Well, there are a lot of them, but one is the Cincinnati Bengals (and barely).
I literally struggled with this. While there are truly more than five levels, the Bengals toe the line between Bad and Meh and here's why. When the Bengals have injuries, those injuries can be blamed on why the team loses. When other teams, like the Steelers or Ravens are banged up, and they are (badly), they find ways to win. That's something the Bengals cannot do, find a way to win in the face of adversity. When times get tough, the Bengals fold and that's how they've been for a long time now. Yes, they win games and yes they beat good teams and yes, they have the talent to go deep into the playoffs, but until they push through bad circumstances and overcome obstacles to win, they won't go deep in the playoffs. They'll beat bad teams most of the times, but that's where they'll stay. The Bengals have a tough schedule ahead of them through the second half of the season and where good teams win those games, the Bengals won't win unless everything falls their way. If the ball bounces in the other direction, they can't overcome and be victorious. That's why they're not Good.
Which players on the Bengals are Meh?
Tons. Rey Maualuga, Domata Peko, Terence Newman, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and others. These are the players that make plays sometimes and completely whiff sometimes too and they're also the players that you know if they sign elsewhere next year, you won't really miss them badly.
Now, on to.....
Good teams win in the face of adversary and they do it consistently. Good teams find ways to win when they have injured players and good teams employ future Hall of Fame players. Good teams beat Meh and Bad teams on a consistent basis and watching them play another Good team is always fun because it's always close. Fans are lucky to be born into a city where a Good team resides. Good teams have Super Bowl trophies to show off.
If you look out the left side of the bus, you'll see the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens.
Both of these teams know what it takes, and do what it takes to win football games. They have dominated the division, with an exception here or there, for so long, it isn't even fun anymore. They're tough and physical teams, they play hard all the time, they exploit the weaknesses of the teams their playing and they have very few weaknesses themselves. Even when they do have weaknesses, they overcome them. They are coached by guys who know how to win football games and typically stay with that one Good team until they retire because they can.
Which players on the Bengals are good?
Andy Dalton, Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith, Carlos Dunlap, Jermaine Gresham and others. These are players the Bengals really can't do without unless they're replaced by someone just as good. These are guys that earn big paychecks and know how to win and do what it takes to get it done. Sure they make mistakes (I'm looking at you, Andy), but that doesn't change the fact that the team is better with them than they are without them. These are players that would be sorely missed if they went elsewhere in the offseason.
And finally, we've arrived at.....
People hate really good teams because they're always really good and their team constantly loses to them. They very rarely lose games that they should win, they are coached by God himself, they win whether they're banged up or not, and they seem to be able to score at will or exactly when they need to. When other teams see that they're playing a Really Good team, they mark their calendars and prepare for the worst because even though "Any Given Sunday" is a saying in the NFL, it's rare when it's applied to a Really Good team. Really Good teams sure fire Hall of Fame players and their players have multiple Super Bowl rings on their fingers.
As you exit the bus, notice the New England Patriots.
Yes, the Patriots, who are 5-3 while there are other teams that are undefeated. The difference between the Falcons and the Patriots is the fact that the Patriots have been doing this for a long time now and the Falcons are having a good year. Sure the Falcons may beat the Patriots, but if the two teams were facing off this weekend, I'd having my money on Tom Brady and the boys. Does that upset me? Yes, I don't like the Patriots for the same reason you don't like them. They always win and it borders on "it's not fair." They have the best offense in the NFL and when it comes to scoring touchdowns, there's nobody better. The Patriots aren't going to be Bad any time soon, and that's what makes them Really Good.
Which Bengals players are Really Good?
A.J. Green and Geno Atkins are. A.J. Green has proven to be one of the best, if not the best, wide receiver in the NFL and Geno Atkins is an absolute beast on the interior defensive line both at rushing the passer and at stopping the run. They both could start for any team in the league and they both do what it takes on a consistent basis to help the Bengals win week in and week out. There are other players that could be considered Really Good, but right now, those are the only two that stand out.
I hope you enjoyed the tour and remember, there are other tour busses that have other opinions, this is just this driver's view of the NFL.