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Exploring the Bengals' potential for a future Super Bowl

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ESPN released their list of NFL teams that are closest to being Super Bowl contenders and one writer thinks that the Bengals were disrespected.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

"The Bengals can't win a playoff game!" We won't stop hearing about it until they win a game in the playoffs in the 21st century. The noise goes on and on.

Instead of giving the Bengals' roster a fair look and understanding the differences between the current incarnation and past Bengals teams that have failed in the first round of the playoffs, analysts tend to take the easy road and dismiss the team without considering the possibility of a win.

The latest example comes from an ESPN article where every beat writer evaluated on a scale of 1-10, how close the team they cover is to being a Super Bowl contender. An answer of 1 meant nowhere near close to being a contender and 10 meant on the brink of playing in the 2017 Super Bowl. (The Broncos and Panthers' writers weren't included.) Nine writers gave their team better values than Bengals beat writer Coley Harvey gave Cincinnati. On the list, the Bengals fall behind the Cardinals, Patriots, Seahawks, Steelers, Packers, Colts, Chiefs, Vikings, and Redskins in evaluating how close the team is to being a Super Bowl contender. That's pretty questionable seeing as how the Bengals with a healthy Andy Dalton were considered among the pack of Super Bowl contenders this season before Dalton's injury shook up the team.

ESPN's Argument Against the Bengals

6: More questions than answers

Ask how close the Bengals were to a Super Bowl a year ago and the answer probably would have been an 8 or 9. But considering the personnel changes that are coming (and that already have come) to Cincinnati in the next few months, it doesn't appear the Bengals will be as good as they were during this past 12-4, AFC North-winning season. Not to mention, there's the fact the Bengals haven't been to the Super Bowl in 27 years. Cincinnati still will have a talented team in 2016. But five straight wild-card round exits make it hard to believe it is a true Lombardi trophy contender.

The primary knock against the Bengals seems to be what Coley Harvey wrote, "five straight wild-card round exits make it hard to believe [they are] a true Lombardi trophy contender." Fair point, but what does that actually have to do with 2016? Yes, there will be coaching changes and roster turnover heading into 2016, but this is similar to what many said about the Bengals going from 2013-2014 when their record deteriorated a whole 0.5 games - from 11-5 to 10-5-1.

Maybe the uncertainty of 13 coaching changes (so far) and 14 unrestricted free agents (plus one restricted) is a bit damning. But isn't this what everyone wanted? Sure, the Bengals lost some great names like Vance Joseph and Hue Jackson - but the formula didn't work! The Bengals are taking an already talented roster/staff and putting together some serious changes. For that matter, who should doubt the Bengals' ability? In recent years, they've been known as talent hawks for both their coaching staff and player roster. If anything, the overhaul should be seen as a positive sign for their chances going forward. Maybe not enough to crown them the next Super Bowl champions, but definitely enough to place them ahead of some other teams whose writers ranked them far better.

Here are some of the teams whose writers ranked them better than the Bengals 6/10 ranking for how close they are to a Super Bowl.

Washington Redskins

I'm going to need a better explanation for this one. Even ESPN's Redskins writer, John Kein, notes that "This might be a bit optimistic." The explanation for this one is the young talent that the Redskins have going forward. Players like tight end Jordan Reed, receivers DeSean JacksonPierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder, and quarterback Kirk Cousins. That's all well and good, but what about all the young talent that the Bengals have going forward?

Players like tight end Tyler Eifert, receivers A.J. Green, Marvin Jones (or Mohamed Sanu) and James Wright, and quarterback Andy Dalton? They only mention one defensive player (Junior Galette), despite the Bengals having multiple defensive superstars (Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Vontaze Burfict, etc.). The Redskins are a team on the rise with some young talent that could lead to a Super Bowl appearance in four to five years with the right coaching, but the Bengals are ready now. Don't forget that the Redskins were blown out by an injured Packers team in the first round (35-18), and the Bengals were a fumble and a personal foul away from playing the Patriots in the divisional round (18-16).

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts didn't even make the playoffs in 2015. Sure, they dealt with an injury to their starting quarterback, Andrew Luck, for much of the season. But, when Luck did play, he wasn't particularly effective. On a similar note, the Colts have an aging problem on their roster, despite putting together a general rebuild back in 2011 when Peyton Manning left. The Colts' offensive line is terrible. The Bengals' offensive line can be a liability at times, but overall gets the job done. Not to mention, they could be getting rid of one of the biggest pieces of dead weight on the offensive line this offseason while having already added high-quality, young talent to the position in last year's draft in Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher.

Mike Wells notes that that, "The reason the Colts, who missed the playoffs this season, are rated so high is is because quarterback Andrew Luck will be back after missing nine games and having the worst season of his four-year NFL career." What about Andy Dalton? Dalton was having the best season of his five-year NFL career before missing the final four games and the one playoff game and had the Bengals rolling with a 10-2 record. Behind Luck, the Colts were 2-5. If they get to use that excuse, why not the Bengals? The Bengals are definitely more ready to take that next step.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Most Bengals fans will agree with me that this one burns. ESPN's Steelers writer, Jeremy Fowler, trots out the excuse that "The Steelers were one Antonio Brown away from playing the Patriots in Foxborough this week with the AFC title on the line." That sounds an awful lot like what I just pointed out about Dalton in the last section. Are the Bengals not allowed to use the "Dalton was hurt" excuse? Cool, then why do the Steelers and the Colts get to use the same excuse?

Not to mention, the Steelers almost missed the playoffs this year and barely beat a Bengals team starting a backup quarterback. Had it not been for a late fumble from Jeremy Hill and a series of personal fouls by the Bengals defense, the Bengals would have played the Patriots in Foxborough two weeks ago with a chance to go to Denver (probably) for the AFC title match - a place where the Bengals also lost by a field goal with a backup quarterback.

The Steelers are in the middle of a youth movement after years of ignoring their aging roster, which probably puts them two to three years (at best) from a Super Bowl berth behind Ben Roethlisberger. With Roethlisberger already 33-years-old and having taken a heavier beating than any other quarterback in the league, who's to say that he even has that long?