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How Bengals can win Super Bowl 52

Bill Barnwell offers the path to the Super Bowl for the Bengals this season.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati Bengals Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Barnwell recently wrote an opening week piece for ESPN with reasons why every team can win the Super Bowl this season. It seems like quite the task considering teams like the Bills and Jets don’t seem interested in winning this year. It is especially interesting for teams like the Bengals, who you don’t usually see anyone outside of Cincinnati picking in Super Bowl predictions. That is fair with the Patriots and Steelers among the top of the AFC. Still, crazier things have happened in the NFL, so let’s see why Barnwell thinks the Bengals could win the Super Bowl.

The Bengals really had only star pass-catchers A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert together in the lineup for three games. While Eifert remains a perennial injury risk, Andy Dalton should have his two top targets available far more frequently in 2017.

Any Bengals fans who watched last season could tell Dalton struggled not having enough weapons. It isn’t a knock on Dalton that he needs a certain amount of talent around him to be consistently successful. Even just having Green, who missed the final six games of the season, will have a huge impact. You add on a player like John Ross, whose speed is an instant threat to defenses (or at least it will be when he gets healthy) and opens everything up even more.

More from Barnwell:

Randy Bullock should help in close games, given that their 2016 kicking unit was the second-worst in football, thanks primarily to a disastrous season from Mike Nugent. Cincy was 1-5-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer.

Knocking on wood, hopefully this holds true. Last year we saw the official crumble of Nugent. We had seen glimpses before, but last season he fell into a rut he couldn’t climb out of. The Bengals were in so many close games where Nugent’s misses decided the outcome. It is reasonable to think the Bengals were closer to competing for the playoffs than it appeared.

One of the biggest things that could help the Bengals make the leap to Super Bowl contention is the addition of running back Joe Mixon. Late in the season, and especially in the playoffs the teams who are consistently moving on have a run game on which they can rely. Yeah quarterbacks win games, but if you think Super Bowl contending quarterbacks are slinging the rock around while the running game gets 30 yards on 20 carries you’re wrong.

Mixon getting a chunk of Jeremy Hill’s touches should also help the Bengals’ offense during the regular season. For the past two seasons, Hill has struggled to adapt to running out of the shotgun, or in general, but Mixon did most of his damage from the shotgun taking more than the 90 percent of his snaps from shotgun formations at Oklahoma. If he can be more successful with those touches it would have a huge effect on the offense.

Another reason the Bengals could have a shot at the Super Bowl is a revitalized pass rush with rookies Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson as well as Chris Smith who the Bengals traded for this offseason. Last year the Bengals struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and it hurt them as opposing teams had all day to throw the ball. Michael Johnson showed he was a shell of himself on the outside. It also didn’t help players like Will Clarke and Margus Hunt failed to provide any extra boost from the bench close to what the three newcomers have shown this preseason.

The two most important things a team needs to be able to do in this league are throw the ball effectively and rush the passer. After a down season in terms of total sacks in 2016, the Bengals’ pass rush must improve this year. Jordan Willis, Carl Lawson and Chris Smith should all aid Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins in that department.

The big knock on the Bengals is that they can never make it past the wild card round, and at some point as fans, I think we all have wondered if they ever will. Barnwell ends his Bengals piece with a bit of optimism for those of us wondering if it will ever change.

Lewis is a remarkable 0-7 in playoff games during his time in charge? As tempting as it is to assume that the Bengals are automatically doomed come January, I'd be skeptical. The Bengals are actually on an eight-game playoff losing streak going back to 1990, but the Chiefs also lost eight straight between 1993 and 2013 -- including a heartbreaking loss to the Colts for the eighth in that series -- before blowing out the Texans in 2015. It's unusual to see such a streak under one coach, but there was a time when Peyton Manning couldn't beat the Patriots in the playoffs or Joe Flacco couldn't get past the AFC Championship Game. Things change.

If you want to see why Barnwell thinks every other team can make the Super Bowl you can check it out here.