The Cincinnati Bengals have not made the playoffs in consecutive years during my lifetime.
Those are difficult words to type. There’s something simultaneously disgusting, embarassing, and surreal about reading them. This is the NFL after all. The land of milk and honey and playoff parity for all (except the Browns, of course). EVERY team has their ups and downs. That is, except for the Bengals.
While in the past 20 years Bengals fans have watched their division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore win Division titles, AFC Championships, and Super Bowls; Who Dey Nation has had to console themselves with two AFC North Championships, and exactly zero playoff wins.
This Bengals team is different though……. right?? Led on offense by the well-documented pairing of AJ Green and Andy Dalton, the Bengals appear to be built for the long-haul. The offensive line is strong, led by Tackles Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith; with Rookie Kevin Zeitler already starting and looking like a veteran. This team is poised for success both now and in the years to come. They’re only going to get better, right?
As for the Defense, DT Geno Atkins might be the best damn player in football this year. And its not just me. Profootballfocus.com had him listed behind only JJ Watt amongst all Defenders in DVOA (Defensive Value Adjusted Over-Average); a stat that accounts for the level of competition as well. The Front 4 has been impressive as a whole and Rookie LB Vontaze Burfict has amazed a League that deemed him undraftable less than a year ago. While the secondary is aging, the Bengals will have 3 picks in the 1st two rounds in the 2013 Draft to shore those holes up. Nothing can stop Cincinnati, right? Oh, if only I believed that.
This is the NFL. Injuries and free-agency always threaten a teams’ long-term success; especially when your owner is legendary spendthrift Mike Brown. And those blasted Steelers and Ravens sit right there in your division, taunting you with their seemingly superior models of team-building and infinitely better pedigrees. Geno Atkins is a free-agent after this year. So is Andre Smith. Nothing is guaranteed.
Nothing is guaranteed; besides one thing. The Bengals have a chance to make history in a positive sense. Win Sunday, and they clinch a playoff spot for a second consecutive season. A win Sunday also means a chance to potentially play for the Division title in Week 17. And who would those final two games be against?? None other than the Steelers and the Ravens.
And so the question is: Will the next 12 days serve as the “new” Bengals’ coronation?? The crowning of a new, young, exciting team; good enough to wash away the stink of the “Bungles” nickname and pave the way for future greatness?? A team good enough to beat the big boys, at home or away, and truly be taken seriously as a power in the AFC for the forseeable future? That could very well be the case.
Or will it serve as an affirmation for every national sports writer who occasionally condescends to speak about the Bengals before dismissing them as a “mediocre” team? An affirmation for people who point to the “new” Bengals’ 0-6 record against those Steelers and Ravens? “New Bengals? Same as the old Bengals.” Will it be nothing more than just another cruel letdown in a franchise with a history FULL of them? I don’t pretend to know, but I know one thing: I can’t wait to find out.
Who Damn Dey,