Now that the Cincinnati Bengals have won two games in a row and have doubled last season’s win total, a lot of people are wondering where they will go from here.
“We knew that moments like these were coming, and we’ve just got to continue to build off of it,” head coach Zac Taylor said after the game. “Winning two games in a row is really insignificant in this NFL, but it is significant for us right now, just everybody seeing what we’ve been through. It means a lot to these guys and something to build off of.”
Last year the Miami Dolphins, a team the Bengals lost to by a score of 38-35 in overtime in the second-to-last game of the season, finished with a record of 5-11. This year, the Dolphins are 10-5 and are currently the fifth seed in the seven-team AFC playoff picture.
So, are the Bengals the next Dolphins? Actually, the odds are good that is exactly what will happen.
In 2018, Justis Mousqueda of Optimum Scouting determined that a significant number of close losses was a definite indicator of immediate improvement. Over the period of 2006 through 2016, 20 teams lost five or more close games than they had won in a single season (ex: 0-5 record, 3-8 record.)
The following year, every single one of those teams improved on their previous season’s record. Those teams, which averaged 4.4 wins, improved to an average of 8.9 wins the next year. Nine of them finished with double-digit wins.
This predictability can likely be explained by the NFL’s system of parity. Teams with losing records generally have more cap space and are able to pick up quality players in free agency. In addition, the league rewards teams with worse records with higher draft slots and easier schedules. In short, the NFL system is designed to reward bad teams and handicap good teams.
This year, the Bengals dropped five games by five points or less en route to a record of 4-10-1. Miami, on the other hand, only had two close losses in 2019. As a result, all of the indicators are pointing up for the Bengals in 2021, despite the struggles of the last two years. And that does not come as a surprise to everyone.
“There’s never been a question within this team of us moving the right direction,” said Cincinnati quarterback Brandon Allen. “I think you kind of can just see in these last two weeks that this team knows how close it can be, and we’ve finally been able to have two really good games and put them together and get wins. We can just take that momentum and move it forward.”