The Bengals will once again have one of the NFL's most talented rosters when the 2015 season opens.
The problem is age and free agency could change that drastically next year. With guys like Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith, Leon Hall, George Iloka and Marvin Jones hitting free agency next year, this may be the final chance this team has to make a deep playoff run together.
The Bengals know that's the case and they echoed as much in a Monday meeting with the media. Several players made it clear the team is taking a 'win-now' approach when it comes to the 2015 season.
Nose tackle Domata Peko has been part of five of Cincinnati's one-and-done trips to the postseason. Now in his 10th NFL season, Peko is ready for his first taste of postseason victory:
"There's a great need because of going so many times and just being one and done," Peko said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. "It gets tiresome. But yeah, I could feel it in our locker room. They did a great job upstairs of keeping everyone together. That doesn't happen much in organizations. There's a lot of guys that come in and out. But it seems like they kept the core group of guys here together and we have that experience."
Left guard Clint Boling admits making it to the playoffs four straight years is nice, but this team is also ready for more:
"It's not a bad thing, Boling said. "But at the same time you want to take that next step. We've just been kind of staying right on that same line the whole past four years. So, at some point, you have to take that next step and I think guys feel like this year might be the year."
Ironically, it's one of Cincinnati's youngest stars who is being the most vocal about 2015 being a 'now-or-ever' year:
"I think for me, the mood for me it's just now or never," said Hill. "It's been four years in a row and I think if it doesn't happen this year then it's probably never gonna happen. So I think that's the mentality and the sense of urgency that we bring in every day. I think something has to change.
"Getting to the playoffs every year, that's cool and all, but we want to get to the next level. I think it's now or never. The sense of urgency needs to pick up and just the 'get up and want to' to do it. I think everyone has that mentality right now and I think that's going to definitely help us going into the season. "
Listening to Hill, you'd think he's been here for all six of the Bengals' postseason defeats since 2006. You have to love seeing that kind of fire and desire to lead from such a young player.
Still, the veterans are the reason why Cincinnati needs to approach 2015 like it's their last chance to make a push for the Super Bowl. With so many guys nearing the end of their prime and/or becoming free agents next year, this could quickly shift from a playoff team to one struggling to stay above a .500 record in 2016.
There's also the question of how long the quarterback and head coach will be here if Cincinnati ensures another year with no postseason wins. Both Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis could be let go next offseason with relative ease. While change might be necessary, having a new head coach and starting QB rarely translates into immediate postseason success.
If those two were to be let go next year, Cincinnati would likely have to endure the growing pains of either a rookie signal-caller or veteran who's more of a bridge starter. While it may be a better option for the long term, it would ensure that whatever window the Bengals had to make a championship run is slammed shut.
In the end, we can't begin to know what will happen beyond this season for the Bengals. What we do know is this is a talented team and they have the firepower to make a playoff run if the chips fall their way.