The Bengals of 2012 and 2011 were both playoff teams and are very similar at their core, but that doesn't mean they're the same.
The 2011 Bengals shocked the NFL world when they finished with a 9-7 record and backed their way into the playoffs with a rookie signal caller, a rookie No. 1 receiver and a new offensive coordinator. They lost their first playoff game in Houston to the Texans. When the 2012 Bengals finished with a 10-6 record and earned their playoff spot, as opposed to backing in to the post season, the NFL world wasn't necessarily surprised. The two teams are very similar. They both rely on tough defense and their offense makes big plays when it needs to. However, that doesn't mean that the two are identical. There are a lot of differences.
The 2011 Bengals' defense finished the regular season ranked No. 7, allowing 316.2 yards per game. They allowed 20.2 points per game (ninth in the league), and they held opposing offenses to an average of five years per play (fourth best in the league). The rushing defense allowed 1,675 yards in the regular season (10th in the league), allowing an average of 3.9 yards per carry (sixth) and 104.7 yards per game (10th). The passing defense allowed 3,385 yards in the regular season (ninth) for 211.6 yards per game (ninth) and they were able to bring the opposing quarterback down in the backfield 45 times (fifth). That 2011 defense didn't play against an offense that was ranked in the top 10 in the league.
The 2012 defense finished the regular season ranked No. 6, allowing 319.7 yards per game. They allowed an average of 20 points per game (eighth) and they held opposing offenses to 4.9 yards per play (fifth). The rushing defense allowed 1,715 yards on the ground this season (12th), giving up 4.1 yards per carry (11th) and 107.2 yards per game (12th). The passing defense gave up 3,400 yards in the air this season (seventh), 212.5 passing yards per game (seventh) and they sacked the opposing quarterback 51 times (second). They faced two top-10 offenses in 2012.
Offensively in 2011, the Bengals had the 20th ranked offense. They averaged 319.9 yards per game (20th), scored 21.5 points per game (18th) and averaged five yards per play (23rd). On the ground, the Bengals gained 1,778 yards (19th), which is 111.1 yards per game (19th) and they averaged 3.9 yards per carry (26th). The 2011 Bengals passing offense gained 3,340 yards through the air (20th), for an average of 208.8 yards per game (20th) and the offensive line allowed Andy Dalton to get sacked 25 times (4th). Of course, being in the AFC North, the 2011 Bengals played plenty of top 10 defenses. All in all, they faced seven of the top-10 defenses, including the top four.
This season, the Bengals had the 22nd ranked offense. They averaged 332.7 yards per game (22nd), scored 24.4 points per game (12th) and averaged 5.2 yards per play (21st). On the ground, the Bengals gained 1,745 yards (18th) with new running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, averaging 109.1 yards per game (18th) and 4.1 yards per carry (18th). Dalton threw for 3,578 yards in 2012 (17th), for an average of 223.6 yards per game (17th) and the offensive line gave up 46 sacks (26th). The 2012 Bengals faced two top-10 defenses.
While the stats show two similar teams, the teams are quite different. The 2011 Bengals sputtered near the end of the season, losing five of their last eight games after winning six of their first eight. The 2012 Bengals struggled earlier in the season. After winning the first four games of the season, they lost their next four, and then finished the season by winning seven of their last eight games, and the one game they lost, they lost by one point.
The 2011 Bengals lost their final game of the season to the Ravens, while the 2012 Bengals won theirs, again against the Ravens. The 2011 Bengals needed help from the Broncos and Raiders to reach the playoffs in 2011, the 2012 Bengals were in charge of their own destiny, and got into the playoffs on their own merit.
Andy Dalton said how important that is during the post-game press conference
The Bengals of 2012 are also going to be playing the Texans in Houston in the first round of the playoffs. While the statistics show that the two teams are similar in the fact that they are better on defense than they are on offense, they don't tell you everything you need to know about a football team. The 2012 Bengals are entering the playoffs with momentum, something they didn't have in 2011. The extra year of experience for younger players like Dalton and Green, as well as the improved running game, have done wonders too.
The Bengals are still going to be facing one of the better teams in the NFL, especially on defense, and will have to contain the likes of Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, but I also believe that the 2012 Bengals are more capable of doing the job than the 2011 Bengals were, even though they'll be facing Matt Schaub instead of T.J. Yates.
It all depends on how important you believe statistics are when it comes to judging how good an NFL team really is.