The Bengals' roster is one of the team's deepest in recent years and despite a primetime implosion in Week 2 of the preseason, there's good reason to believe this Bengals team has a good shot at once again making it back to the playoffs in 2015.
If they do, the story the national media will focus on (once again) will be the Bengals' last six trips to the playoffs, all of which have been one-and-done appearances, including four consecutive seasons of losing during Wild Card weekend with Andy Dalton in the spotlight.
Many Bengals fans and members of the national media alike believe the Bengals should move on from Dalton. Former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason doesn't agree. "What do we always talk about in the NFL? The quarterback. What is the alternative to Andy Dalton? There is none," Esiason told me when we sat down to discuss the Bengals last week. "You have your starting quarterback who you've invested in. He’s a high character guy who’s gotten better every single year in the NFL, I think he's on pace to have a great year."
Solomon Wilcots finds fault with Bengals' lethargic preseason and playoff play
Some are putting Monday night's pitiful showing by the Bengals behind them. Others are saying it's a reason to get angry and use it as the motivation to win going forward. For Solomon Wilcots, winning is a habit that the Bengals need to get into.
For the Bengals, injuries have been a major factor in their playoff losses. In the Bengals' 2014 playoff loss to the Colts, A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham both missed the game due to injury and since Tyler Eifert, Marvin Jones and James Wright were already not healthy, that left Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Tate, Cobi Hamilton and Greg Little as the Bengals' wide receivers in the game. That's not a cast of wide receivers any playoff team would like to enter a game with, even if Aaron Rodgers is your quarterback. Both Esiason and former Bengals defensive back, Solomon Wilcots know this. The two were both on the Bengals' 1988 squad, the second (and most recent) Bengals team to make it to the Super Bowl.
"Last year they lost guys like Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert went down the very first game. A.J. Green missed a huge chunk. Giovani Bernard was hurt. [Jermaine] Gresham was hurt. Maualuga and Burfict were out," Wilcots said.
They still win 10 games, in that division where three teams go to the playoffs. They lost Andre Smith at the end of the year. They lost at least a quarter of their starters, and the production of Jones with 10 touchdowns from the year before. Most teams would not have still won 10 games."
But the Bengals did. Not every win was pretty and many of the losses were bad, to say the least, but the Bengals made it back to the playoffs for the fourth year in a row. Wilcots believes it's a testament to head coach Marvin Lewis' coaching.
"I know how good this team can be. So yeah, I'm very optimistic for 2015, because I tell myself, if they're just healthy, they win 10 games just by being up in the bit, pissed off a little bit. They should come in this year with a chip on their shoulder, all the stuff people are saying about them. I've got a chip on my shoulder for them."
While Esiason believes the Bengals are one of 12 teams who can be in the Super Bowl discussion this season, Wilcots is even more optimistic. "They should be in the conversation for one of the teams in the AFC to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl," Wilcots says. "And the reason why I say that, in my mind, all the real juggernaut teams are in the AFC."
Some of the ongoing big questions in the AFC that led Wilcots to that proclamation are Tom Brady's potential suspension in 2015 and the Colts' questionable offensive line. Additionally, in the AFC North, Wilcots sees Pittsburgh's defense as "highly questionable" and the Ravens' fourth offensive coordinator in as many years being too much for Joe Flacco to handle.
"That’s why I put Cincinnati in that conversation with the top four to five teams in the AFC, but I don’t hear them talking like that," Wilcots said. "I mean, I'm talking like that, but I don’t hear them."
Esiason believes if the Bengals are going to make it past the first round of the playoffs - and potentially to the Super Bowl -- they're going to need some luck on their side.
"You’ve gotta have some breaks," Esiason said. "You need the home field advantage to help you, especially for the Bengals and I would say, yeah, they have a legitimate opportunity to get there, and that’s all you really can ask for. A 16-game season is a war of attrition.The amount of injuries that teams deal with nowadays is usually what determines how hard they go and how deep they make it into the playoffs."
Whether the Bengals make it back to the playoffs for their fifth consecutive year will be determined by how they play in the 16 games of the 2015 regular season, starting on September 13, when the Bengals head to Oakland to face the Raiders. With as strong of a schedule as they have, the Bengals will be tested plenty on the road to the 2015 playoffs.
And by the way, if the Bengals do make it back to the playoffs and lose in the first round, Wilcots doesn't plan to just let it go. As he told me, "I’m telling you, I will come into Mike Brown’s office at the end of the year if this team lays an egg this year like they did last year and like they did Monday night (in Week 2 of the preseason) and tell him, Mike, we've got to blow it up."