Watching the Super Bowl from home with friends and family is what makes this Sunday one of the best days of the sports calendar.
It can also be torture for players and teams who felt they should be the ones playing in the big game, but were unable to make it there. That's true of the Bengals, who had one of the NFL's best teams just over a year ago, but injuries crippled that team's Super Bowl hopes.
More injury woes helped lead to a losing record in 2016 marred by six one-score defeats. But this team still has plenty of talent that can be the core of a title-contending team.
However, there are three critical moves the team must make this offseason to ensure the 2017 Bengals are capable of winning a Super Bowl.
Keep Key Free Agents
Again, the Bengals have a great core of players as it is, and simply keeping it that way will be critical to contending for a title. That means re-signing Kevin Zeitler, Andrew Whitworth and Dre Kirkpatrick is something that must be done this offseason. Those are simply three players too critical to this team’s success to let go of and not expect there to be a drop-off.
Even just keeping two of the three is enough for this team to remain relatively the same next season. Then it’s just a matter of upgrading positions of need...
Find A Reliable Kicker
The Bengals suffered six losses by eight points or less, not to mention a tie in which one field goal and one extra point was missed by one Mike Nugent. He was major liability this season that cost the Bengals far too many points in close games.
Randy Bullock wasn’t much better, missing what could have been a game-winning 43-yarder to win a game in Houston, but sailed it wide right. If the Bengals had simply had a more reliable kicker, they probably have 2-3 more wins.
Just finding a better option here could once again be the difference in close games for the Bengals, or it could be their downfall in 2017.
Add an Impact Pass-Rusher
Among the Bengals' biggest offseason priorities should be adding an impact pass-rusher to the defense.. As good as Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap have been at rushing the passer, in the NFL, the more quality pass-rushers you employ, the better.
After the Bengals’ top two, there isn't another guy who consistently beats his man and pressures the quarterback, let alone sacks them. While we might be lucky enough to see Cincinnati do so with a quality free agent or two, this upgrade is likely going to come through the NFL Draft.
It helps that Cincinnati currently holds a top-15 pick in the 2017 draft, which appears to be loaded with instant-impact pass-rushers, of which has been routinely mocked to the Bengals.
If they find a guy capable of pressuring the passer on a consistent basis alongside Atkins and Dunlap, this defense should make a big jump forward in 2017.
It’s no secret that Russell Bodine is the weakest link among all starters on the Bengals roster, but he benefits from the strong support of his coaches. We’re not really sure what the coaches are seeing, because the rest of the world is seeing arguably the NFL’s worst starting center.
The graders at Pro Football Focus have had Bodine ranked near the bottom of their rankings in each of his first three seasons, and it’s easy to see why watching him on a consistent basis.
The only guys who’ve ranked worse have typically been backups thrust into a starting role because of injury to the starter. It’s felt like the Bengals were playing with a backup here for much of the past three years, so it’s only fair Bodine is ranked like one.
This simply must be upgraded, and until the Bengals choose to accept that, they deserve to lose as many close games as they have been.