The Bengals have had a pretty impressive run since 2011, despite having essentially gone through a mini rebuild after an abysmal 2010 season. That run includes five straight winning seasons backed up by five straight playoff appearances, although notably zero playoff wins in that time span.
The lack of postseason success has been a consistent issue that tends to keep most NFL analysts hesitant to believe in the Bengals too much, despite a very impressive and talented roster. But, most experts tend to recognize that the Bengals' run of regular season success has been a sure bet.
That sentiment is apparently not one echoed by NFL.com writer Adam Rank, who has very low expectations for the Bengals this season. Specifically, he said that he expects the Bengals to be"'4-12 bad" right in the middle of his top 111 fantasy players rankings for 2016.
I was bullish on Jeremy Hill during his first two seasons. I'm out now that Hue Jackson is in Cleveland. This Bengals team is going to be 4-12 bad. Which means a lot of throwing the ball. Which means more Giovani Bernard and less Hill.
Rank's reasoning for why the Bengals are going to be 4-12 seems to revolve around Jackson's departure from Cincinnati. That seems like a perfectly valid reason to think the team may take a step back, but Jackson's presence making an eight game difference is extreme.
The Bengals have been through quite a bit of turbulence over the last four years, yet they have improved by one win all but one year since 2011. They began the Green-Dalton era in 2011 with a record of 9-7, sneaking into the playoffs with the AFC's No. 6 seed. The next year, it was 10-6 and the No. 5 seed. They finally won the division in 2013 with an 11-5 record and securing the AFC's No. 3 seed.
Don't forget the fact that many analysts expected the Bengals to take a major step back in 2014 after losing both coordinators. Many predicted they would miss the playoffs as a result of the exodus. They still didn't win a playoff game, but they only took a 0.5 game step back in the regular season, going 10-5-1. At this point, NFL analysts should probably have learned to not underestimate the Bengals in the regular season.
In 2015, they went back to their old ways of improving on their best record by one win, posting a franchise best 12-4. If that trend continues, 13-3 would be the logical next step in 2016. Does that necessarily mean that will happen? No. But, it seems a whole lot more likely than 4-12 just because Jackson left.
As strikingly bold of an opinion as it is to say the team won't win more than four games, it's also particularly confusing given the fact that he ranks four Bengals players on his list of the top 111 fantasy players for 2016. By comparison, the Ravens were 5-11 last year and only have two players listed in Rank's top 111: Justin Forsett and Kenneth Dixon.
The Bengals' four players include superstar wide receiver A.J. Green, breakout star tight end Tyler Eifert, dynamic running back Giovani Bernard, and embattled running back Jeremy Hill. There's also the matter of one particular snub on this list, quarterback Andy Dalton, whose breakout 2015 performance was on track to be one of the best fantasy performances of the season before he got hurt with three games and three quarters left to play in the regular season.
On top of these offensive stars, the Bengals have incredibly talented players throughout the team. Guys like Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Vontaze Burfict, Adam Jones, George Iloka, Kevin Zeitler, Andrew Whitworth, Clint Boling, and Kevin Huber might not mean a whole lot from a fantasy standpoint, but they are the foundation of the team's success and help to build a pretty strong argument against the Bengals putting together a season as bad as the one Rank expects.
We're just going to laugh this one off.