HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 07: Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals reacts against 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)
We're open to different opinions, even adjusting our own when presented with a compelling argument. So when ESPN's Marcellus Wiley and Damien Woody argued why the Bengals won't return to the playoffs, we weren't moved. It has nothing to do with the fact that we're inherently Bengals fans, readying our blades of defense for our boys in stripes -- though we've done plenty of that. Rather their arguments weren't strong enough. It was like being forced to create a list, even though one might not believe it enough to show the confidence in their perspectives.
Damian Woody argued two points in that the Bengals are young, facing a tough schedule. Marcellus Wiley mentioned teams like the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Oakland Raiders looking to score the second wild card, assuming that the loser between Pittsburgh and Baltimore scores the first. We can buy the schedule argument more than the rest, but age? Come on.
Taylor Mays and Geno Atkins are the only projected defensive starters under the age of 25 as of this posting. Carlos Dunlap, only 23, could start this year but that will be determined next month. Yet youth isn't a liability with Atkins and Dunlap, who have already achieved some level of success in the NFL. The projected starting linebackers this year -- Rey Maualuga, Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson -- average 27 years of age. The average age of the team's veteran cornerbacks -- Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Nate Clements, Jason Allen, Adam Jones -- is 29.8 years old, which in itself allows a young Dre Kirkpatrick to comfortably develop at his own pace.
Now one could ride the somewhat menial argument on offense, with seven projected starters (or players competing for a starting job) under 25 years old -- Mohamed Sanu (22), Armon Binns (22), Kevin Zeitler (22), A.J. Green (23), Andy Dalton (24), Jermaine Gresham (24), Brandon Tate (24). Additionally, save for Donald Lee's senior citizen status as a 31-year old, the team's entire tight end roster is young, led by veteran Gresham (24), followed by Orson Charles (21) and Colin Cochart (24). Same goes for wide receivers. On the other hand three of the team's starting offensive linemen (Kyle Cook, Travelle Wharton and Andrew Whitworth) are 28 years or older with Wharton and Whitworth north of 30.
But really. Is there an issue of age? Perhaps more on offense than defense. Yet when you really think about it, a majority of the players played on the same team that made the playoffs in 2011.
In fact age hasn't shown itself as a liability, rather a distinct advantage. Why? Because this team didn't know that they were supposed to lose last year. They didn't know that they were supposed to sulk and feel sorry for themselves when the Bills jumped out to a 17-3 half time lead, only to outscore Buffalo 20-3 in the second half. Nor were they supposed to outscore Tennessee 17-0 in the second half after falling to a 10-point deficit entering the third quarter. A ten-point half time deficit against the Browns resulted in a 16-3 second half and a three-point win.
If anything this team is young is strictly due to age, but not experience. These guys have already played a postseason game, with four players under the age of 25 that earned a Pro Bowl appearance last year. They broke several trends last season that were over ten years old, such as crushing the 20-plus year losing streak against the Buffalo Bills. It's true. Age has affected this team. But not how Damian Woody thinks.