The Bengals have become one of the NFL's most consistent franchises in recent years with four-straight playoff berths and a 40-23 regular-season mark since 2011.
That level of consistency is why many believe the Bengals will at the very least have another winning season in 2015, while also contending for a playoff spot. That consistency stems from a level of continuity rarely seen in today's NFL.
Brian Burke of FiveThirtyEight.com previewed the entire AFC North while including projections and rankings based on ESPN's preseason Football Power Index. This nugget he had on the Bengals shows just how much stock this franchise puts into continuity:
FPI predicts that the Bengals will be solid again in 2015, and one of the primary reasons is continuity. Twenty-one of their 22 starters are back from a year ago, which ties for the second-most returning starters any NFL team has carried into a season since 2006.
Getting 21 of 22 starters back from one year to the next is very hard to do in today's NFL, but the Bengals have been one of, if not the best at keeping the majority of their roster intact for these four-straight playoff trips. That's not even accounting for the addition of defensive end Michael Johnson, who getting back on the team essentially counts as adding a starter back on the defensive side of the ball.
Speaking of, that defense should be significantly better in 2015 with Johnson back in the fold, along with the entire unit being more comfortable with second-year defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.
And defensively, FPI projects the Bengals to bounce back after a down year in 2014. Cincy’s defense had allowed the NFL’s second-fewest overall EPA and fifth-lowest rate of yards per attempt two years ago, but they fell to 16th and 20th, respectively, after the departure of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer a year ago. Losing a coordinator can be surprisingly traumatic for a defense (more on this later), so they should be better in Paul Guenther’s second season at the helm.
It's no secret the defense struggled mightily at times in 2014, but that was more attributed to the lack of a pass rush. Anytime you finish dead last in sacks, that's going to make the entire defense look worse than they really are. If Johnson and the rest of the front seven can generate more pressure in 2015, this unit should absolutely take a big step forward and return to being one of the league's better units.
As for how the Bengals will do in 2015, Burke projects the Bengals to have 8.4 wins and 42.1% odds of making it back to the playoffs. He gives the Ravens a projection of 9.0 wins and the division's best playoff odds at 54.7%.