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ESPN writer calculates Bengals’ best and worst seasons

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell found the best and worst season for each NFL team since 1960. For the Bengals, it goes exactly how you would expect.

James Brooks

In the first part of the season, the Bengals were on fire. They were 4-1, leading in the AFC North, and scoring well over 30 points per game. If the team continued to play like that all year, this might have been the best season in franchise history.

But then the wheels fell off the track and the Bengals have been steadily spiraling downward ever since. The Bengals are now 1-5 in their last six games, and we don’t need to beat any more dead horses talking about how bad this team is. If this team had played like this all year, this might have been the worst season in franchise history.

But what were the actual best and worst seasons in franchise history?

Bill Barnwell of ESPN set out to find each NFL team’s best and worst campaigns. When he got to the Bengals, it ended up being exactly what you would expect.

Current season: 5-6 (42nd best of 51 seasons in franchise history)

Best season: 1988 (12-4)

Worst season: 2002 (2-14)

One of the more unlikely Super Bowl entrants in recent memory, the best Bengals team in franchise history was coming off a 4-11 season and ranked 20th in points per game in 1987. The 1988 Bengals led the league in scoring and posted the best offense in franchise history before coming just short of the 49ers as six-point underdogs in Super Bowl XXIII. The 2002 Bengals, meanwhile, were bad enough to bring about the arrivals of Carson Palmer and Marvin Lewis. The latter seemingly might have to post an even worse season than 2-14 to lose his job.

The 1988 season ended in the Bengals last Super Bowl appearance to date, and for good reason. This team led the NFL in points, total yards, and rushing yards. Boomer Esiason won MVP that year after leading the NFL in passer rating, helping wide receiver “Touchdown” Eddie Brown break franchise records for single-season and single-game receiving yards. Ickey Woods led the team with 15 rushing touchdowns, but lost out on the Pro Bowl to his partner in the backfield, James Brooks. Eight Bengals made it to the 1988 Pro Bowl in total, including future Hall of Famer Anthony Muñoz.

The only other team that could rival this one were the teams from 1981 and 2015, when the Bengals went 12-4 each time.

In 1981, Ken Anderson also won MVP that year under center after leading the NFL in passer rating and breaking the franchise record for touchdown passes. Rookie receiver Cris Collinsworth posted a 1,000-yard season that year. But, like the 1988 Bengals, the season ended in a Super Bowl loss to Joe Montana’s 49ers.

2015 may have been the best regular season in franchise history if Andy Dalton had not been injured in Week 14.

Even so, the 1988 squad still stands above the rest.

As for the worst team in franchise history, 2002 definitely takes the cake.

Even though Chad Johnson and Corey Dillon helped had two standout seasons, the offense ranked 28th in points. The defense was awful, however, ranking dead last in points given up. The 2-14 record allowed the Bengals to have the first overall pick in the 2003 draft, which they used on Carson Palmer. Head coach Dick LeBeau was fired at the end of the year, and the Marvin Lewis era began.

These two season represent the highest and lowest points of the Bengals’ entire history. After barely losing the Super Bowl, the Bengals’ founder and owner Paul Brown died shortly after in 1991, sending the organization into decay. The Bengals slowly fell lower and lower from that point on until going 2-14 in 2002.

While it is definitely way too late to turn things around this year, the Bengals will keep trying to get back their former glory, and finally surpass that 1988 team and bring home a world championship. Hopefully, we will never have to suffer through a 2002-type season ever again.