The Bengals aren't pretty at times, but they got the job done more often than not. A 10-win season is nothing to sneeze at and nobody can say the Bengals backed their way into the playoffs this year. However, another playoff loss in the first round is frustrating and improvements must be made.
Let's take a look back at the season.
Point One: Bengals once again relied on defense
The Bengals offense isn't the worst in the league, but it's certainly not the best. For the second year in a row, the Bengals made it to the playoffs and for the second year in a row, the defense led the way. The Bengals finished the regular season with the No. 6 defense in the regular season while the offense finished at No. 22.
If the Bengals want to get past the first round of the playoffs, the offense will have to catch up with the defense.
Point Two: There are some free agents that aren't worth re-signing
While it would be nice to see the Bengals re-sign Michael Johnson and Andre Smith to keep the offensive and defensive lines intact, there are some big-named free agents that may be worth letting go. Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga is likely one of those free agents. While he had a personal record in tackles, he is obviously a weak point of the Bengals defense, especially in the passing game, and the Texans knew it and exploited it throughout the team's playoff loss.
Maualuga may have been named defensive captain in 2012, but his inconsistent play at MIKE makes the defense weak. With Vontaze Burfict's emergence, the team may have a replacement middle linebacker on the roster already.
Point Three: Bengals need a shiftier back to help move the ball down the field
BenJarvus Green-Ellis had the best year of his career (when it comes to total yardage) and there's no question that he helped the Bengals more than he hurt them. However, Green-Ellis doesn't have the breakaway speed that the Bengals could use to help move the ball down the field in large chunks.
There are several plays that Green-Ellis picked up 20 or more yards before he was tackle or pushed out of bounds that a faster back could have turned into touchdowns. I don't want the Bengals to get rid of Green-Ellis because I think he's good for the team, but I also think that the Bengals could get some use out of a big-play threat at running back as well.
When the Bengals beat the Steelers in Week 16, they knocked a team out of the playoffs that has been in control of the division for longer than any Bengals fan cares to remember. They did it with their defense and in doing so they locked themselves into the playoffs.
That win will go down as one of the biggest Bengals wins over the last 10 years. The fact that they did it with an extremely young team makes it even bigger. I'm not going to sit here and say that the AFC North belongs to the Bengals now, but I will say that they will share a larger piece of the pie with the Steelers and Ravens from now on.
Point Five: Sanu's injury hurt
Mohamed Sanu's injury came just as he was starting to come into his own. He scored four touchdowns over a three-week period before his season-ending injury and was starting to emerge as the team's No. 2 receiver. A second viable option at wide receiver is extremely important because it will take some attention away from A.J. Green, allowing him to make more plays.
Hopefully Sanu is at 100 percent when the 2013 season begins or the Bengals find someone else who can step up to be a No. 2 receiver.
Point Six: Geno Atkins
Is a beast and is finally getting some much deserved press. He is one of the best, if not the best, interior defensive lineman in the NFL
Extra Point: 10 wins
They weren't all pretty, but 10 wins is a big deal and even though the Ravens game didn't really matter, a 10-win season sounds a million times better than a nine-win season. They could look as ugly as the win over the Steelers did, but they can also look as beautiful as the win over the Giants.
This is a good team with a bright future and as long as they stay on their current track, the playoff wins will come.