The Bengals can't seem to get any respect. Weeks after the end of a 12-4 season that was easily one of the three best years in team history, Steven Ruiz of USA Today has already predicted the Bengals to miss the 2016 playoffs.
Citing a tough division, potential losses of key players and coaching turnover as reasons for the prediction, the lack of respect for the Cincinnati Bengals is downright ridiculous. Even if the Bengals were only able to hold onto one or two of their top four free agents, they would still be one of the strongest and deepest teams in the NFL. Shawn Williams is ready to step up at safety, plenty of free agents and rookies could step in and make an impact at wide receiver and Cedric Ogbuehi is ready to take on the right tackle spot if Andre Smith leaves, as is expected.
Making bold offseason predictions disrespecting the Bengals has unfortunately become a commonplace tradition in sports media. In the offseason before 2011, ESPN analyst Rick Reilly predicted an 0-16 season in Cincinnati, bashing the Bengals offense and claiming the loss of Carson Palmer would be too much to overcome in what was one of the most ludicrous predictions of all-time. Instead, the Bengals went 9-7 and made a playoff appearance.
Prior to the 2015 season, Sports Illustrated's Greg Bedard predicted the Bengals, who ultimately went 12-4, to finish with a 6-10 record. Bedard went game-by-game, predicting losses to the Raiders, Chargers, Rams, Browns and 49ers. Sports Illustrated's Don Banks also believed Andy Dalton would get benched halfway through 2015.
These bold predictions of the Bengals missing the playoffs won't go away soon. Perennially losing in the first round of the playoffs, Cincinnati will need to win a playoff game, or perhaps consecutive playoff games, to finally earn the media's respect.
It will definitely be a task for the Bengals to make a playoff run in 2016, but the reasoning for their missing the playoffs seems a bit weak.
The 2014 season is a perfect example of how the Bengals overcome much more than people give them credit for. Prior to 2014, both offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer both left for head coaching jobs. The team also lost several key players, including Michael Johnson, Anthony Collins, Andrew Hawkins, Kyle Cook and James Harrison. A.J. Green essentially missed half the season, Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert were both lost for the season due to injuries by the end of Week 1, the linebacking corps was so depleted that Cincinnati fielded three backup linebackers as starters in Week 7 and to top it off, Geno Atkins and Dalton had the worst seasons of their respective careers. The Bengals defense only mustered 20 sacks, less than J.J. Watt and Justin Houston's individual season totals. Overall, everything that could've gone wrong for the Bengals went wrong. Yet the team still finished 10-5-1, making a fourth-straight playoff appearance.
Even if the Bengals lose four of their top five free agents, Baltimore makes an unlikely turnaround and Pittsburgh is able to maintain a loaded roster despite several players hitting free agency, the Bengals will still be one of the division's two best teams. Andy Dalton is one of the AFC's top quarterbacks, the running game can't get any worse than it was in 2015 and the defense, one of the NFL's best, has proven that it can play with a depleted secondary and still succeed. The loss of Andre Smith could hurt the offensive line, but Russell Bodine is now a year older, Cedric Ogbuehi will be an adequate replacement and Jake Fisher looks like an improved version of Anthony Collins. Most of the Bengals' best players are hitting their prime and based on their success over the last five years, there's no reason to think this team should miss the playoffs next season.
Hopefully, we see another season of the Bengals proving their doubters wrong.