The Cincinnati Bengals have annually had one of the NFL's best special teams units under head coach Marvin Lewis, and that continued this past season.
Under special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons, Cincinnati once again thrived in the often-forgotten third aspect of football. While the Bengals didn't have a lot of explosive returns or blocked kicks, they did thrive on their coverage teams in limiting opponents to minimal gains nearly every time they touched the ball.
On punts, Cincinnati allowed the seventh-fewest yards per return (6.3) and allowed a long of just 21 yards while finishing seventh in net punting (42.2). On kickoffs, the Bengals gave up the 12th-fewest yards per return (22.6) with a long of just 35 yards. Neither unit allowed a touchdown this season.
Those are the big reasons why the Bengals were once again the top 10 in Rick Gosselin with the Dallas Morning News' annual analysis of each special teams unit. Gosselin ranks the NFL's 32 teams in 22 kicking-game categories annually with points assigned in each category according to their standing (one for the best through 32 for the worst).
The Bengals come in at No. 8 while having none of the best or worst rankings in those 22 categories. This is an interesting list with none of the top five teams having a winning record and a combined record of 27-53. That shows you that a great special teams unit will never carry a bad team to wins.
However, seven of the eight teams who made the playoffs finished inside Gosselin's top 13, and the lowest playoff team was the Green Bay Packers at No. 17. That shows that having at least a decent special teams unit is crucial to having a winning record and making the playoffs, something the Bengals have done five straight seasons now.
More than anything having a steady special teams unit helps teams to not lose close games. Think about Cincinnati's close wins over Baltimore, Seattle, Pittsburgh, or San Diego. One breakdown on special teams could have been the difference in those games, but that's something we rarely see from this team, and it's why they've typically won more close games than they've lost in the past few seasons.
Here is Gosselin's full ranking: