What are the Cincinnati Bengals at this point? Alright, let's get a little less philosophical than that--in what state is the Bengals franchise in right now? After a successful rebuilding campaign after 2011 and solid draft classes over the past few years, this team appears to be a dangerous one in the wide-open AFC. There was the achieving of the epic milestone last year, where the team broke a 30-year curse of not being to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. As pathetic of a streak that that was to have to their name, it was huge for the team to break it.
Still, there is the lingering heartache of disappointment that only a fan of the Bengals franchise can relate to. After looking like a stronger team than the wide-eyed, rookie-filled squad of 2011, the following year's edition followed a very similar path in losing to the Houston Texans in their building for the second straight postseason. Though the game was a much closer match than a year ago, the result was the same: one-and-done.
As much as we want to laud Marvin Lewis and Co. for the job they've done in resurrecting this franchise and making it a relevant and wholly competitive one since 2003, the fact remains that the club is 0-4 in the postseason under him. That's not exactly a resume that screams "Hall of Fame".
And, now, it appears that the Bengals have one of their most complete rosters in a long time. The quality draft picks are piling up with a solid mix of some veteran free agents. The veterans that the Bengals like to bring in are the ones that have been placed on the discard pile and are eager to prove themselves after they have been passed over and/or have been labeled a "bust". Regardless, it seems to work out for the club more often than not.
The free agency approach was both dangerous and frustrating. Dangerous in the sense that the inward focus of retaining their own guys runs the risk of keeping things status quo and only subtly improving; frustrating in the sense that we envisioned the heap of available money to be spent on a high-profile outside free agent or three. That wasn't the case, with James Harrison being the lone exception.
Still, almost every goal in the Bengals' offseason plan has been checked off of the list. Keep Michael Johnson. Check. Sign Andre Smith to a long-term deal. Check. Bring back veteran corners Terence Newman and Adam Jones. Check. Get Andy Dalton some pass-catching weapons in the draft. Check. The pieces are here and it's time for some youngsters to grow up quickly and play big boy football.
So, what's the next step, then? Being completely candid, I thought that the Bengals' best chance to win a playoff game for the first time in 20-plus years was in Houston last January. I felt that this young team was experienced in the postseason and that Houston wasn't playing it's best football. I thought that the media's love affair with J.J. Watt would be stifled by the impressive Bengals offensive line. I thought that the stout Bengals defense would finally be able to contain Arian Foster and show the ability to cover a tight end. Nope.
We at Cincy Jungle, as well as others in the local media, recognize that this team is talented enough for it to take the "next step". I'll repeat my question from the previous paragraph and ask what is that "next step" for the Cincinnati Bengals? Joe Fortenbaugh at The National Football Post has an opinion. In a piece he calls "The Pressure Index", he looks at 12 teams and.or players that will be under the microscope to perform in the league this year. Coming in at No.9, he has the Bengals and their quest to make postseason noise.
9. Cincinnati Bengals: One of the pleasant surprises to emerge as of late, the Bengals have gone 19-13 during the regular season over the last two years, earning back-to-back trips to the postseason for the first time since 1981-1982. The team looks to have a franchise quarterback in Andy Dalton, one of the league’s best receivers in A.J. Green and a top-notch defense that ranked sixth in the NFL in yards allowed last season (319.7 yds/gm). But after falling at Houston in the wild card round in each of the last two years, the time has come for this franchise to take the next step.
What must be accomplished: Win at least one playoff game.
Most of us would agree that the 2013 season is as good as any for the club to break another streak of futility and grab that elusive playoff win. But, would just the one postseason win be enough? After years of being an NFL laughingstock, don't the players, coaches and fans deserve a deep run? I'd like to think so.
Then again, I may be sounding greedy here. I guess it's all relative, seeing how it's always been about baby steps with this team. Maybe the lone playoff win would be sufficient for some, depending on the opponent. If the Bengals knocked out the Steelers, Ravens, or their newest postseason foe in the Texans, wouldn't that bring a big smile to your face? If that was their only postseason win this year, would that be enough?
Baby steps or giant leaps?