Heading into the 2017 NFL season, there’s an aura of excitement and opportunity for the Cincinnati Bengals. After posting such disappointing results in 2016 (6-9-1), the team hit the reset button in some key areas and worked hard to tweak the roster. With many new faces in the mix, the Bengals are hoping to recapture the success they saw during much of the last decade as the team consistently competed for and/or made the playoffs. But, the team also hopes to avoid the pitfalls of the one-and-done era of Bengals playoff football.
That’s something safety George Iloka thinks is very possible.
"I think this team currently is way different team from the playoff teams," Iloka told Richard Skinner of WKRC, referring to the Bengals’ 2011-2015 rosters. "Are there guys from the playoff teams? Yes. Those guys like A.J. (Green), Andy (Dalton), Carlos (Dunlap), Geno (Atkins), myself we were part of the playoffs teams, but we were really young. They had the core veterans up top. Now we’re the core with the new set of young guys and now we start defining who we are and what we can be."
Many thought the Bengals’ window of opportunity slammed shut after losing so many players during the 2015 and 2016 offseasons. It is enough to make many think the Bengals will require a lengthy adjustment period before they can return to their competitive ways. But, that isn’t necessarily the case and guys like Dalton know it.
"You can say there's a window but the Patriots, they've won Super Bowls in how many different years and how far apart, with different guys," Andy Dalton said. "So you can say there was a window when we had one group here a couple years ago, and you can say there's a window now. We've got guys who are talented and we've got to go put it out there and prove we deserve to be the type of thing we think we can be."
With all the new talent the Bengals have added in the offseason, like John Ross, Joe Mixon, Kevin Minter, and others, there is no reason to think the Bengals can’t rise from the ashes of last season’s turmoil. 2017 is a new season with plenty of promise. We already know the Bengals’ roster is loaded with talent, so finding success is simply about keeping last year’s issues in the past and finding a way to make the team’s new structure work.
"Honestly and I’d say this when we were winning and going to the playoffs, every year you take it for what it is," said Iloka. "Whatever feelings or judgments made about last year you are what your record is last year, but last I checked, everybody’s record is 0-0 currently. We’re going into the season with our same goals, which is win the division, defend home and make it to the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. Obviously what people say based off last year they can say that, because that’s what they’re supposed to say, but it really has no bearing on this season. This is a whole different team and the young guys from last year have a year experience and we have some new talent this year."
Still, it is important to always remember the lessons of the past. Going 0-6 in the playoffs between 2009 and 2015 shows how ill prepared some of those Bengals teams were for the big stage. At this point, all the team can do is move on from the mistakes of the past and build upon the foundation they have laid out for the future.
“We have addressed it with personnel. We have addressed it with scheme," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "We continue to have guys get put into position (to succeed) and we have to come through."
Ultimately, it’s all about moving on from the bad season and proving to the rest of the NFL 2016 does not define who the Bengals are, as a team.
“I know what we did last year and how close we were and what we should have corrected and I know the sky is the limit for this current team going into this year," Iloka said.
With so much talent and promise on the current roster, the sky definitely is the limit.