HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 07: Head coach Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals looks on before the Begals take on the Houston Texans during their 2012 AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Reliant Stadium on January 7, 2012 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Tell me something. Whereas several of our brethren are nose-diving into a pool filled with tasty Kool-Aid, is there an opposing faction in your mind reserved for pessimism? Let's face facts. Cincinnati's track record following a postseason hasn't been encouraging historically. Following Super Bowl XXIII the Bengals evened out at .500. During the Marvin Lewis era, Cincinnati has gone 8-8 and 4-12 following postseason runs. In fact the only time that the Bengals have ever made the playoffs in consecutive seasons, there was a 57-day players strike following Super Bowl XVI.
There's more than enough arguments to augment optimism this year. However there's always something. The choke of 2006 was highlighted by the decline of the rushing offense, overall injuries on the offensive line and a defense, not that great to begin with, failing to match their incredible turnover ratio from 2005 [Note: The Bengals in 2005 had a +24 turnover ratio. In 2006 it dropped to +7]. The Joker beating Batman and Robin season in 2010 wasn't as bad as the four wins indicates (eight of 12 losses were by a touchdown or less), but mediocrity was evenly distributed throughout the offense and defense. No chemistry, camaraderie and an unexpected shift in philosophy that didn't sit well with some.
It's hard enough predicting the future though. A tipped pass won't be intercepted, a fumble bouncing into the loving embrace of a Bengals defender and assuming that season-ending injuries are suppressed by Jacob himself, are far too unrealistic to project. Random variables, really. These things happen. They're unpredictable and often not worth exploring in the context of preseason hype and offseason enthusiasm. So we'll pluck that thought from the mind, dissolving it into a bowl of magic water for now.
Yet development has promoted optimism.
On paper this team has devised a Mad Scientist like formula, accompanied by the reverberating laugh, with an end result of personnel upgrades, both in the front office (scouting department) and on the field. One could even argue the coaching staff is better, with offensive coordinator Jay Gruden enjoying the pace of a normal offseason to work out the kinks from within his younger players, like Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. On the other hand we're not sure how Mark Carrier improves the secondary following Kevin Coyle's departure just yet. A defense largely intact from last season with a special teams unit that broke franchise records (Mike Nugent and Brandon Tate), while some would argue that the AFC North has somewhat declined at the top.
Marvin Lewis has been given a gift to rebuild a franchise more than once. Much like a quarterback learning defenses and being accustomed to the game, Lewis has experience rebuilding, devising a roster that's already being argued as his best yet.
Returning to the postseason will be a milestone that hasn't been seen in Cincinnati since 1982, roughly 30 years ago. But that isn't the milestone people have in mind. No. Not even close. Would it be a stretch to point out that expectations are already brimming to the surface that it's playoffs or bust? Based on expectations alone, the consecutive playoff milestone will be achieved this year. It's the elusive playoff win that focuses on Cincinnati's most important milestone to date. It's something that Cincinnati hasn't experienced for 7,821 days (including today) when the team beat the Houston Oilers 41-14 on January 6, 1991.
To achieve either milestone, the Bengals have one more trend to break. They have to follow-up a postseason with another playoff berth. And one can smirk at the thought that it's as much possible this season as any before.