Yes, the Bengals had a relatively fortunate season in terms of injuries. They also got hot at the right time. But the amount of irrational takes and predictions about the team are getting ridiculous at this point.
Anyone who doesn’t have this team finishing at least second in the AFC North is being petty. They might not make it back to the Super Bowl. But to suggest that they are on the verge of collapsing after their run to an AFC Championship is to neglect the nature of roster building in Cincinnati.
Here are some reasons the Bengals will be in contention this year:
Offensive Sustainability - The Bengals have a top-five quarterback now in Joe Burrow. They have two of the best receivers in the game, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, plus perhaps the best third option in the game, Tyler Boyd. Last year, the offense never achieved its potential due to a seriously-flawed offensive line.
Says a lot that 4 of 5 starters from the #Bengals 2021 Week One offensive line aren’t currently on NFL rosters.— Willie Lutz (@willie_lutz) May 21, 2022
And now, after adding three starters through free agency, the line is average at worst. That means, if healthy, this will be one of the best passing offenses (and thus, offenses) in the league. And as John Sheeran said on our show (below), passing offense is sustainable for “a lifetime” in the NFL.
Expected wins/losses - Per ProFootballReference’s expected win/loss formula, the Bengals were expected to win 10.5 games last year, so they actually failed to meet expectations by going 10-7. Meanwhile, Sheeran said, “most of the teams in the AFC playoffs— like the Las Vegas Raiders, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Tennessee Titans, and the Kansas City Chiefs—exceeded their expected win total.” Thus, those are the teams, he said, that are more likely to regress, “because they actually got lucky at times and found ways to win” in a manner that is unsustainable.
Scoring differential - In the regular season, the Bengals didn’t get very “lucky” in close games, Sure, Evan McPherson had an outstanding year and his clutch kicks are remembered fondly, but the Bengals were actually 4-5 in one-score games last year, suggesting that their success wasn’t on account of winning more than their share of nailbiters.
Of course, all three of their postseason victories were by seven points or less. But success in the playoffs is a great indication of the authenticity of a team’s competitiveness and talent. The Bengals winning by narrow margins time and time again is a sign that they have the intangibles to convert talent into winning on the biggest stages, as playoff games tend to be uglier and closer than regular season games.
Roster development - A big reason people think the Bengals are frauds is that they went from being one of the worst teams in the league to on the brink of winning it all. But the front office simply brought in an influx of talent through both the Draft and free agency. And these players are all young and on the rise. The Super Bowl losers who fall apart the next season usually have a few veterans in their 30s as major contributors. But the oldest contributors from last year—Boyd, Vonn Bell, and Chidobe Awuzie—are all only 27 years old (Awuzie is actually 26, but he turns 27 on Tuesday). This roster is only going to continue to mature and improve.
You can watch our discussion of the above points in the video below:
You can also listen on iTunes or using the player below: