It’s been a roller coaster of an offseason for the Bengals.
It began with a some painful lows as long-time stalwarts Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler left to sign big free agent deals elsewhere. Those have been the Bengals’ best two offensive linemen for the last five seasons, so losing them was a major blow to this team’s 2017 outlook.
That outlook wasn’t great to begin with after Cincinnati floundered to a 6-9-1 record in 2016. Sure, the season was full of close losses that could have easily been flipped and it would have ended up being a nine or 10-win season. In that same breath, it could have also turned into a 5-11 season if not for the close win over the Jets and the Washington kicking debacle.
That’s why we should not expect any power ranking at this point to favor the Bengals, including the latest from ESPN.
23. Cincinnati Bengals
2016 record: 6-9-1
Post-free agency ranking: No. 23
Really? Way down here at No. 23? I mean, I guess the offensive line is an issue minus Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth. But it's easy to forget that this team made the playoffs five years in a row before last season's crater, and the crater could well turn out to be an aberration.
It’s clear ESPN doesn’t think the Bengals are improved enough after the NFL Draft to warrant a bump up the rankings. You could certainly argue for a spot or two increase after Cincinnati aced this draft. Adding John Ross, Joe Mixon and Josh Malone should make this offense very scary in 2017, perhaps enough to carry this team to a winning season. And, a competent kicker, which the Bengals are hoping they’re receiving in fifth round pick Jake Elliott, could turn a few near-losses into wins, too.
But don’t forget about what was already a solid defense, whose biggest weakness in 2016 was the pass rush. Adding pass-rushing specialists Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis should fix that area, which could be the key to this being a top-10 or even top-five unit in 2017. Replacing the enigmatic Rey Maualuga with Kevin Minter at middle linebacker should also be a nice upgrade on defense.
The lows of free agency were bad for Cincinnati, but the highs of the draft should have been enough for the Bengals to rise up at least a few spots in this power ranking. But, ESPN obviously doesn’t share that feeling.
All that matters is how the Bengals fare in the actual division rankings and win-loss column come the 2017 football season. This team certainly has the potential to prove everyone wrong by having a winning season, but it’s becoming clear that few will expect them to do so.
If history is any indication, the Bengals like proving the team’s doubters wrong and winning will be even sweeter when it comes.