The Cincinnati Bengals have surprisingly found the perfect combination of youth and experience. Very rarely in the NFL do you see a team with so much youth even mange to squeak out winning record, let alone make back-to-back playoff appearances.
Yet here the Bengals sit, favored to make the playoffs for a third-straight season, and are the sexy pick to win the AFC North, and overtake the defending Super bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in the process.
ESPN ranked all 32 NFL teams by 25-and-under talent, and the Bengals were their third-best team:
The Bengals have the horses to hang with the top two teams on this list. In Geno Atkins and A.J. Green, they have a one-two punch of Pro Bowlers that would be the envy of just about any team in the league. Carlos Dunlap just got a huge extension and is a credible young edge rusher. They upgraded their skill positions drastically by bringing in Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard to a unit that was already likely to get better with second-year improvements from Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. There’s every reason to believe that Kevin Zeitler and Trevor Robinson can be long-term fixtures on the offensive line. Vontaze Burfict was a big hit as an undrafted free agent, and between 2012 first-rounder Dre Kirkpatrick and 2012 third-round defensive tackles Devon Still and Brandon Thompson, there’s a lot of draft value that hasn’t even had a chance to break into the starting lineup yet.
What’s separating them from the top is Andy Dalton. Dalton has proved that he’s an average to slightly above-average starter over his first two seasons, but his arm strength limitations have been evident against the better defenses in the league. Until Dalton can put together a season like the quarterbacks ahead of him on this list have, the Bengals can’t climb above them.