Despite losing yet again in the first round of the playoffs, 2015 was a successful season for the Cincinnati Bengals. With 12 wins they tied their previous franchise record and they also took home one of the toughest divisions in football, with both the Steelers and Ravens heavily favored to start the year. Meanwhile, they also got into the postseason for the fifth year in a row, something only the Broncos, Packers and Patriots have also done.
But to non-fans, the Bengals remain the same team that fails come crunch time, hasn't won a playoff game in 25 years and is the first team in NFL history to lose five consecutive playoff games in the first round.
Unfortunately, they could not prove people wrong on that one, after losing at home to the Steelers in miserable fashion. But, the Bengals did challenge other myths about them in 2015, starting with the play of their quarterback.
Busted myth #1: Andy Dalton isn't worth his contract
I am sure you all remember the backlash the Bengals got after signing their quarterback to a hefty extension - between $96 and $114 million, depending on escalators. Then some details about the deal came out and even if it was cleverly structured, including many performance-driven incentives, to the harshest critics, the Bengals were entering "quarterback purgatory".
Now, after a great season in which Dalton improved in every category possible and led his team to the best start in franchise history, you can argue Dalton belongs at least in the conversation as one of the NFL's top 10 quarterbacks. And those guys get paid.
The good thing is, if he ends up making the ceiling of his deal, that means he will have helped the Bengals win in the postseason. If Dalton reaches that level, the Bengals will gladly hand him that money.
An injury in Week 13 robbed us of seeing him in the playoffs in his best season yet, but there's no doubt that he is worth the money right now, especially after progressing so much in 2015.
Busted myth #2: Paul Guenther isn't the man to replace Mike Zimmer
Nobody will ever replace The Zim Master, but after taking over for now Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer as the Bengals' defensive coordinator, Guenther did not inherit the best of situations. After a very pedestrian first season in the job, many began to wonder if Guenther was the right man for the job.
Cincy's defense was atrocious in 2014, especially in getting after the quarterback, but they had many injuries and did not have all the players they need to succeed. Many role players were asked to step into starting duty and most of them just showed why they're backups, which is not to take away anything from them. I don't think any other coach would have fared much better given the situation.
In 2015 Guenther got elite Geno Atkins back, and he changed everything. The Bengals were able to put pressure on the quarterback more effectively, nearly doubling their number of sacks from the previous year, and an opportunistic secondary aided the group, too. Many see now that Guenther is a great coach in the making, leading the Bengals to their best ever mark at points allowed in 2015.
Busted myth #3: Flashy free agent acquisitions are necessary for success
To be honest, I was one of many to ask for some kind of external improvement at positions where an upgrade could come in handy, like defensive tackle. But the Bengals did not agree with me and stuck to their plan of paying their own guys and picking up just a few outside free agents.
Cincy did bring in some guys like Johnson, Pat Sims and A.J. Hawk - the first two in their second stint with the team - but they focused on retaining Rey Maualuga, Mike Nugent and above them all, Clint Boling. Other key players like Cedric Peerman, and of course, A.J. Green were also given new deals. They also added future depth in the draft, planning ahead for Andre Smith's impending departure in free agency this year.
While some fans did appreciate this methodology, many thought the Bengals were doomed for a transition year and thought they lacked ambition. Then, they won 12 games and were the closest they've ever been under Marvin Lewis to winning in the playoffs.
With offseason talk focused in on the large number of Bengals free agents set to hit the market, it should be wise to at least show a bit of patience with the Bengals' approach, especially given their success in 2015.