Angry, apathetic, and confused are likely all part of the emotional spectrum fans of the Cincinnati Bengals have experienced over the past month. The 2015 season, one that ended in heartbreak for Bengals fans, is officially over and it's on to the 2016 season now.
ESPN hasn't wasted any time in hopping into their Delorean to divulge the future. One such proclamation made by Dan Graziano over at ESPN is a bold one surrounding the Bengals, and it's one likely to bring a little sunshine through the clouds currently hovering over Bengals Nation.
"The Cincinnati Bengals will beat the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl LI," Graziano writes. "I know what you’re thinking, but yes, they’re going back to Roman numerals next year. What? Oh, you mean the prediction itself? Yeah, well, eventually Charlie Brown’s going to kick that football before Lucy yanks it away from him, right? One of these years?"
While the "they have to do it sometime" argument doesn't instill a huge level of confidence, it's obvious the national perception of the Bengals is one that believes they were on the cusp of something great this past season. Having critical players healthy at the most opportune times, adding through the draft and free agency, while also hanging on to some critical internal free agents should prop the championship window open a little bit longer.
Even though AJ McCarron led the Bengals back in the Wild Card loss against Pittsburgh, many believe the outcome would have been different had Andy Dalton been playing and not sitting on the sidelines with a fractured thumb. The embattled Bengals starter had a breakout campaign in 2015 (odd to say, given accolades he's received in the preceding four seasons) and the poor fortunes Cincinnati has experienced in the playoffs could have been reversed had he made it through to the end of the season uninjured.
Before the postseason, I wrote a daydreamer piece for Cincy Jungle, noting the fun and emotionally-charged possibilities the Bengals could charge through on their way to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy this past season. While one included a victory over the Steelers, which was so cruelly taken away in reality, another facet of the same scenario included beating the Cardinals and Carson Palmer in the Super Bowl. Maybe I was just a year early, as now Graziano is suggesting the same?
Other notable predictions made by Graziano for the 2016 season include Super 50 winner Peyton Manning heading up the Tennessee Titans organization, Chip Kelly turning around the 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens having a bounce-back season. The latter seems reasonable due to the number of injuries the Ravens sustained in 2015, so the Bengals need to keep up the strong level of play against Baltimore they have in recent years.