For five of the past six years, Bengals fans have been used to their team in the playoffs. Although they didn’t win, Cincinnati was expected to get to the postseason due to the talent on the team.
After losing valuable players in free agency, the Bengals went 6-9-1. It was a season that wasn’t quite normal for the Bengals, considering the success they’ve had during the regular season in past years. This has caused many fans to lose hope on winning a Super Bowl or even winning a playoff game in this decade. The thing that most fans forget is that the Bengals still have tons of talent with Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Tyler Eifert.
The main question is… Is that enough?
Why Playoffs Are Possible
The Bengals still have a decent core in place with players like Dre Kirkpatrick, George Iloka and Vontaze Burfict. This group is definitely able to contend for the playoffs, as long as they get some sort of support from the other positions. The Bengals lost a lot of veteran leadership and it may be time for the youngsters to step up and become the veteran leadership for the rookies.
Having franchise cornerstones like Andy and A.J. will and should keep the Bengals contending on offense as long as they’re on the team. It’s just the little pieces and things that need to be fixed as soon as possible.
Young Players On The Rise
The Bengals have some players that will be able to finally see some action, after being injured in their rookie seasons. Players like Andrew Billings and William Jackson III are going to be on the field. William Jackson III was the first round pick for the Bengals in 2016 and Billings was a steal in the 4th round. Both are projected to be starters next season as WJ3 should be the No. 3 corner and Billings should be the starting DT next to Atkins. Billings was an amazing run defender in college and was projected to be in the 1st round. He fell in the draft due to him being only a 2-down player according to many.
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Another player on the rise is Nick Vigil who saw playing time in his rookie season. Vigil didn’t get much time, but he showed promise in the limited amount of snaps given. According to Paul Guenther, Vigil will probably be starting alongside Burfict and newly acquired Kevin Minter. If Vigil continues to expand from what he showed in his rookie season, the Bengals could have something special with the linebacker corps.
Growth Of Coaching
Cincinnati had a ton of new coaches last season. Cincy lost big names, Hue Jackson and Vance Joseph. The Bengals answered back by hiring Jim Haslett, Jacob Burney, Kevin Coyle and Bill Lazor. The club also promoted a new offensive coordinator in Ken Zampese. The first-year coaches struggled, but there is a sense of potential for next season. The Bengals improved later in the year on defense, finishing 8th in points allowed.
After a season of knowing the team and the players, the coaches and the play should only get better. Many are a bit worried about the expansion of Zampese’s offense in the second year. Will Zampese make adjustments from his first season to have a successful scheme in his sophomore year? That remains the question on offense for the Bengals.
The Bengals lost a sense of veteran leadership when they lost Andrew Whitworth and also Domato Peko this offseason. Whitworth was often considered the vocal leader in the locker room for the Bengals. He usually gave the pep talks and pre-game speeches to the team. Peko was one of the main leaders on defense, helping young players. The lack of veteran leadership could hurt the Bengals if they plan on making a playoff run.
Cincinnati can save themselves from the loss of veteran leadership if the young players rise to the occasion. The players that were once considered “young” must grow up and become the new vets. They must provide a source of leadership to the younger players and rookies that are to come.
What About Lewis?
The Orange and Black can only go as far as Marvin Lewis takes them. If Lewis can’t get the Bengals to the playoffs, he could potentially be fired or removed from coaching. Unless Mike Brown decides to extend Lewis, Marvin could be looking at a lame duck year. One way for Lewis to hold onto his job would be to get back to the postseason. Most of the NFL doesn’t think it’s possible.
Lewis must provide leadership and be willing to try new things this season if he wants to succeed. Things like letting younger players get playing time or rookies starting immediately will have to be some of the changes needed to get to the playoffs.
Can Marvin Lewis go through the adversity and take his team back to the playoffs and finally win a playoff game after 25+ years?