How Good Have the Marvin Lewis Bengals Been (Update)? ...and how good is the AFCN?

A couple of years back, I asked this question on the heels of the Bengals disastrous 2010 season. Now with a full 10 years (!) of data. Let's take an analytic look at Marvin's tenure -- and what it means for the Bengals and the Ravens.

First, you may want to revisit the prior post for some of the original discussion:

Second, a quick recap on how I scored each season:

Each season a team can earn points for this analysis as follows:

Here's how the points were allocated.  Each team could earn up to 6 points per season:
1- For being competitive. For purposes of our definition, this is having 8 losses or fewer. Rationale -- 7 losses with two weeks to go often leaves you in the playoff hunt (or can make you a division winner in the NFC or AFC West.)
1- For making the playoffs. I think this should be the goal of every season. It's unrealistic to hope you can win the Superbowl every season, but the elite franchise consistently get to this level.
1- For hosting a playoff game. Extra revenue for the owner, extra revenue for the city, prestige, and it probably means you won your division.
1- For winning a playoff game. 'Nuff said
1- Conference Champion. Also 'Nuff said
1- Superbowl Champion.

That gets us to the following table -- teams, points, and wins over the 2003-2012 period -- note, there may be some trivial math errors here, but nothing that changes the landscape of the analysis. (i.e. I caught a few errors when double-checking, meaning, I may have missed one or two!)

Points Wins
Patriots 40 126
Colts 31 114
Steelers 28 103
Ravens 26 97
Chargers 20 95
Broncos 18 90
Bengals 13 79
Jets 13 78
Titans 11 81
Texans 11 73
Chiefs 9 68
Jaguars 8 72
Dolphins 5 68
Raiders 2 49
Bills 1 63
Browns 1 52

A couple of quick points:

Really, no matter how you look at it, Marvin's Bengals have been average. If you look at it by Wins/Losses, the Bengals are good for about 8 wins in an average year under Marvin. This doesn't favorably compare to the "big boys" in our division -the Steelers and the Ravens - who average a bit over and under 10 wins per year. We rank 8th out of 16 teams..

When looking at my points system (which is somewhat biased to really good runs in the playoffs), it's clear that we're also in the muddled middle. Our inability to get out of the first round leaves us in the same group of teams as the Jets, Titans, and Texans. (For those of you who are late to the scene and think of the current Texans as juggernauts, they have a grand total of three winning seasons -- and two playoff victories -- sadly, both over the Bengals). It's an interesting group to be in -- who would you rather be -- the Bengals, who are starting to be a fairly consistent success -- or the Jets -- who are feast or famine? (Often bad in the observed period, when the Jets do get to the playoffs, they actually win games.)

This gets back to the other question -- does playing in the AFC North hurt us? I think the answer is a resounding "yes." Here's a look at how the divisions have fared in that time period:

Division Points Wins
AFC East 59 335
AFC North 68 331
AFC South 61 340
AFC West 49 302

While the AFC South won the most games, it's clear that the AFC North rules the post season. Deep runs (and Championships) by the Ravens and Steelers are more then norm than the exception. The AFC West deserves its reputation for softness- it's clearly the weakest regular-season division as well as the poorest performer in the playoffs.

Said another way, if the Bengals were in any other division, they'd likely be the #2 team over the same time frame. In the AFC East, the Bengals have outperformed the Dolphins and Bills by a substantial margin, and are equivalent to the Jets. In the AFC West, the Bengals are clearly better than the Chiefs and Raiders, and in the South, they would be equivalent to the Texans and Titans, and clearly better than the Jaguars. In the North, though, the Bengals clearly trail both the Steelers and Ravens. Depressingly, we're the only division with two top-5 teams in both wins and analysis points. This, again, points to the organizational strength of our rivals; that said, they're both being tested in that area currently. Or, said, another way, the AFC North account for 3 of the strongest 7 teams over the analysis period (which may account for why the Browns have such a problem gaining any traction.)

In the final analysis, I stick to my earlier conclusion: Marvin Lewis and company have done a very good job in Cincinnati, especially after the wreckage of the 90s. As an organization-builder, I love what Marvin has built and continues to build -- the talent -- both on the field and on the sidelines, has substantially improved, and the Bengals product is headed in the right direction because of it. That said, Marvin's legacy will be defined, I think, by what happens next: Do the Bengals become a consistent 10-win team, and a threat to go deep in the playoffs? Or do they only maintain (or worse, fall back from) mediocrity?

Marvin still lacks as a game manager at times (cf Reid, Andy), but anyone starting a petition for Marvin Lewis as GM gets my vote.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Cincy Jungle's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Cincy Jungle's writers or editors.

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