Are the Bengals in win-now-or-else mode this season?
After failing to make the playoffs last year, that’s exactly what Marvin Lewis and his staff should be preparing this roster for. Lewis has been in Cincinnati far too long without getting his team past Wild Card weekend. He should not be able to afford a second-straight losing season and keep his job should that occur. With that in mind and considering the Bengals’ draft picks in 2017, it seems the team is in win-now mode.
Even with the roster losses the Bengals have endured during the last two offseasons, this is still one of the 10-12 most talented rosters in the NFL. Any roster that has Geno Atkins, A.J. Green, Carlos Dunlap, Dre Kirkpatrick, Vontaze Burfict and Andy Dalton should be among the biggest playoff threats in the AFC.
But if that kind of roster is part of a second-straight losing season, the head coach should probably lose his job.
SB Nation seems to agree. They just did a piece on the NFL Urgency Index, which takes a look at how badly each franchise needs to win big in 2017. The Bengals were placed in the Urgent: We’re gonna get fired class, along with the Detroit Lions and New York Jets.
Marvin Lewis is already the golden standard for doing enough to keep a job but not enough to actually make anyone happy.
In 14 seasons in Cincinnati, he hasn’t led the team to a single postseason victory. Only Jim Mora has more career games under his belt without a playoff win, and Lewis is set to pass him during the 2017 season. Mora got fired by the Saints after 11 seasons before coaching four more with the Colts, but Lewis has stuck with the Bengals his entire tenure.
The last time the Bengals won a playoff game was January 1991. The 26 seasons without a victory in the postseason is the longest active streak in the NFL.
But the Bengals have been a relatively consistent contender during the Lewis era. Falling to 6-9-1 during the 2016 season puts Lewis on thin ice, though. The team is retooled offensively with John Ross and Joe Mixon, so another disappointing season in 2017 could be the final straw.
For much of this offseason, it appeared the Bengals’ playoff window had closed. Cincinnati losing its two best offensive linemen in Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth seemed to be the final nail in the coffin for that window, which already appeared to be closed during last year’s 6-9-1 disaster.
However, a great haul in the NFL Draft has some thinking this could be the shot in the arm the Bengals desperately needed. John Ross is the kind of game-breaking receiver who could open up this offense more for everyone, A.J. Green included. Green is often the target of double-teams by opposing defenses, but having Ross could help free up Green more for him to do more damage than he’s ever done before.
Joe Mixon is the kind of elite running back talent who can make any offensive line better, which could be enough to help offset the losses of Whitworth and Zeitler, whose great contributions were often undermined by Jeremy Hill’s plodding running style. In fact, just taking the injury-prone Ross and red-flag laden Mixon are signs this team is looking to win-now, while Lewis still has a job as Cincinnati’s head coach.
And what was easily this team’s biggest weakness in 2016 could now actually be a strength in the pass rush. That area took a major nose dive last year, but the additions of Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis could make this unit a force to be reckoned with in 2017.
The additions of Ross, Mixon, Lawson, Willis and the Round 5 selection of kicker Jake Elliott show this team is looking to win-now. And, if Lewis allows the rookies to actually play in their first season, that will further prove the Bengals are pushing to contend.
In addition to the rookies, most of this team’s best players will be back and healthy this year. Injuries to Green and Tyler Eifert proved to be too much to overcome throughout the 2016 season, but both should be healthy come Week 1. William Jackson III and Andrew Billings also missed all of last season and should be great additions to the roster in 2017; that goes for 2015 draft pick Marcus Hardison, who has yet to play a down, too.
The Bengals even went after free agents this offseason who will count against their haul of compensatory picks in 2018. Offensive lineman Andre Smith will cancel out a compensatory pick as will linebacker Kevin Minter. So, it seems the Bengals did something they rarely do and acquired new pieces (or, rather, reacquired an old piece in Smith) to help their team now, rather than looking toward the future for potential draft compensation.
All of this is why the Bengals seem to be in win-now mode this year and why the team will contend for a playoff berth this season...or else.