I hate to remind fans who may have properly repressed the 2019 season, but the good news is this team is so far away from that iteration.
This was illustrated by ESPN’s latest list, which has the Bengals as the second most improved team heading into 2020. That is mostly achieved based on being the worst team from 2019 and adding Joe Burrow, but there is a little more than just that.
2. Cincinnati Bengals: Dalton took the Bengals to the playoffs in four consecutive seasons, more than anyone in the previous four decades of team history. But he slipped enough in the last four seasons that Burrow — and his higher ceiling — is an upgrade at the most important position on the field. The Bengals also revamped their secondary in a much more ambitious manner than most observers expected. — Kevin Seifert
Obviously, the jump from Andy Dalton to Burrow should be pretty significant. It may not be obvious early in the season with the limited time for teams to actually practice together. Teams also won’t has the preseason to ramp up to the regular season either. Still, Burrows ability to create when the play breaks down and proficiency on deep ball passes will be a huge help at some point during the season.
This change on its own wouldn’t have earned the Bengals this spot, though. It is no secret that Cincinnati really went out and completely redid most of their defense. They signed players like D.J. Reader to plug up the middle of the defensive line and free up Geno Atkins more frequently. They also added plenty of secondary players like Vonn Bell, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander to help keep up with the high powered passing attacks that have become all too common.
Finally, the linebackers will be unrecognizable from 2019. Outside of Germaine Pratt — who was drafted last season — we shouldn’t expect to see anyone else return. It started by signing veteran Josh Bynes, but then Cincinnati ramped it up by drafting three linebackers in the draft. Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither and Markus Bailey are all athletic linebackers capable of playing in passing situations without being a liability. Now it will be hard to rely on rookies to play well, especially this year. It is still a huge upgrade having guys who have athletic ability in an NFL where tight ends and running backs are constantly testing linebackers.
It is easy to get excited about the progress this team made this offseason. It is important to note that this may not cause an instant turnaround in 2020, and that the Bengals still have a ways to go. That offensive line still needs some serious work, and more long term options on offense still need to be secured with A.J. Green, John Ross and Joe Mixon set to be free agents following the season.
We shouldn’t be ranked this high again on a list like this, but the Bengals can’t be content with coasting on this offseason for the next few years. This has to be a stepping stone.