Much of the offseason talk surrounding the Bengals has centered on whether or not they can win a playoff game this season. While I am as optimistic as any Bengals fan can be, I question whether or not the Bengals will even make the playoffs this year. This is not to say I doubt the talent level, or even Andy Dalton for that matter.
Rather, my concern rests with the fact that currently only two teams have made more consecutive playoff trips than the Bengals - the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers have made the each made the playoffs for the past five consecutive seasons, leading the NFL.
After those two teams, only the Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, and, wait for it, the Cincinnati Bengals have made the playoffs the last three consecutive seasons. Furthermore, only the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts have made the playoffs the last two years. So, out of 32 NFL teams, only 7 have currently been to the playoffs in back-to-back years.
Given this relatively small number of teams and the parity within the NFL, it is entirely foreseeable that the Bengals do not make the playoffs this year, regardless of their talent. I think most, even biased, observers view the Patriots, Packers, Broncos, and 49ers as better teams than the Bengals.
However, that is the company the Bengals are keeping with their current playoff streak. I view the 49ers as the most comparable team to the Bengals out of this group as neither team's quarterback has been consistent enough to be amongst the league's elite. However, the 49ers have made the NFC championship game and Super Bowl over the past two years, so clearly they have what it takes to win in the playoffs while the Bengals are still searching for their first playoff win in 23 seasons.
Unfortunately, the margin between making and missing the playoffs is so small in the NFL that it is entirely feasible for the Bengals to not even make the playoffs this year. And with all the talk surrounding Dalton and his contract revolving around him winning a playoff game, what if he doesn't even get that opportunity this year?
Will the Bengals suddenly be a terrible team? Of course not, but my worry is that Cincinnati fans, given two decades of playoff futility, are so desperate for a win that many will call for the team (or at least Dalton) to be overhauled in order to "take the next step".
This reaction would be completely justified, however I worry that we as Bengals fans have become so obsessed with winning a playoff game that failing to reach the playoffs is not even being considered. By all objective measures, the Bengals should make the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year.
If they do, they need to win for Dalton's sake. But if they fail to reach the playoffs this season, the franchise is still on the right track towards long-term success.