This Sunday, the NFL will see the a Conference Championship weekend that will not feature the Cincinnati Bengals for the 28th year in a row. The Bengals were eliminated from playoff contention after a Week 15 loss to the Steelers, ending any ridiculous long-shot hopes of making the playoffs.
A big part of the Bengals’ problem in 2016 was the number of players who moved on to other teams in the 2016 offseason. Guys like Marvin Jones, Reggie Nelson, Mohamed Sanu, Leon Hall, Emmanuel Lamur, Andre Smith, and others moved on to other teams and have found success in their new homes. While Jones, Hall and Nelson lost in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, Sanu’s Falcons are thriving after taking down the Seahawks in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Sanu and two other former Bengals will be playing in the Conference Championships this weekend with the hopes of moving on to the Super Bowl. Here’s a look at those three former Bengals.
Lengel spent all of his rookie season (2015) on the Bengals’ practice squad after impressing as an undrafted free agent in training camp, but not doing enough to earn a spot on the final roster. A similar situation developed in 2016 and he spent the majority of the 2016 season on the Bengals’ practice squad as well.
However, in light of the season-ending injury to superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots plucked Lengel off the Bengals’ practice squad in November. Although he was quiet for the first four weeks with his new team, he recorded three catches for 22 yards and a touchdown in Weeks 16 and 17.
Depending on the status of interim starter Martellus Bennett, who is currently dealing with an injury, Lengel could potentially see action with the Patriots in the AFC Championship. It’s quite the promotion from his days with the Bengals, when he had virtually no chance of seeing the field behind Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, and C.J. Uzomah. Lengel’s Patriots will play the Steelers on Sunday night.
Hamilton’s role with the Steelers may make you shake your head and wonder why the Bengals couldn’t get anything out of him. He spent one game on the Bengals’ 53-man roster, but the rest of his nearly two years in Cincinnati came on the practice squad. He failed to make an impression, was cut in the summer of 2015, signed with the Panthers, was cut there, and then signed with the Steelers in August 2016.
Since signing with the Steelers, Hamilton has thrived in their offense. He has recorded 19 catches for 248 yards and two touchdowns since being promoted from their practice squad to the active roster in Week 6. He has also become an occasional kick returner for the Steelers, returning five kicks so far for a total of 83 yards. This week, he will be up against Lengel and the Patriots, guaranteeing that there will be at least one former Bengals player in the Super Bowl.
By far the most notable member of this group is Sanu, who left the Bengals in the offseason to become a member of the Atlanta Falcons. He spent the majority of his time in Cincinnati as the Bengals’ third string receiver behind A.J. Green and Marvin Jones, although he was also behind Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard in terms of skill players being featured. Occasionally he had a chance to be a second string receiver when Green or Jones were hurt, but those chances always went away when they returned. He left for the Falcons last offseason with the hope of finding more opportunities to prove himself, and he’s certainly done that.
The Falcons signed Sanu with the intention of replacing 11-year veteran and four time Pro Bowler, Roddy White. Despite backing up Julio Jones for the whole season, Sanu recorded 59 catches for 653 yards and 4 touchdowns. It is safe to say that Sanu’s career with the Falcons so far has been a success.
With Julio Jones potentially hampered by a toe injury, (though the Falcons are saying it won’t impact his ability on Sunday afternoon) there is a chance Sanu could be called on to become a driving force in the Falcons’ bid to make it to the franchise’s first Super Bowl since Chris Chandler took the team to the promised land in 1998, only to lose to John Elway and the Broncos.
It’s possible two former Bengals could be playing in Super Bowl 51 in Houston.