Later today Cincy takes on Houston in the first round of the playoffs. It's been a good year. In terms of being a Bengals fan. Remember, this team didn't qualify for back-to-back playoff seasons since 1981-82. So the fact that they did last year, with a 9-7 record, and they did again this year with a 10-6 record is nice.
Last year they were coming off a miserable 2010 season in which they were 4-12. They let one of their best players that season, Terrel Owens, walk away. Then their franchise quarterback, Carson Palmer, wanted out so he said he either wanted to be traded or he would retire. Then the mouthpiece (unfortunately) of the franchise (Chad Ochocinco) was his usual toxic self.
Worse still, there was a lock out in process which wiped out mini camps and any coach/player contact.
With all this drama, it appeared as if the Bengals would stumble into their worst season ever, which is REALLY saying something.
But then - the most unimaginable thing happened - their fortunes began to change (and this is a franchise doomed by misfortune - their star pupil quarterback, Greg Cook, who took the league by storm his rookie year, wrecked his shoulder and never played effectively again; Paul Brown decides to hire someone named Tiger Johnson to replace him as head coach instead of his own offensive coordinator named Bill Walsh (yes, he of the three Super Bowl rings - two of them earned by defeating guess who? The Bengals!); in 1984 the Bengals have the #1 pick but the player they covet, Steve Young, refuses to play in the NFL and heads to something called the USFL and never plays for the Bengals; when the Bengals do have a bit of luck and earn the best record in the NFL in 1988 and earn a trip to the Super Bowl, their starting fullback has a drug relapse and still sits in prison for it and then in the first quarter their star nose tackle, and best defensive player, breaks his leg . . . oh by the way, Joe Montana drives 92 yards in the final two minutes to pull out a 20-16 victory; the next season the Bengals star running back, Ickey Woods, tears his knee up and his career is essentially over; Paul Brown dies and his son, Mike, takes over and promptly deals his star quarterback, Boomer Esiason, after one season - only to draft someone named David Klingler in the first round (Klingler is mercilessly sacked and destroyed and never wins more than 12 games in his time with the Bengals); the Bengals fire Sam Wyche and could hire Bill Cowher - instead they hire someone named David Shula; then in 1994 the Bengals have the first pick in the draft - instead of taking a running back by the name of Marshal Faulk, they draft someone named Dan Wilkinson; a year later the Bengals move up to the #1 pick to draft everyone's number one running back, Ka Jana Carter, and they sign him to a mega deal but then he tears his knee up in a preseason game and his career is over; in 1999 the Bengals draft a new qb, someone named Akili Smith, who couldn't even make it in the Canadian football league; in 2003 the Bengals hire Marvin Lewis and he drafts a franchise qb in Carson Palmer, who does finally lead the Bengals to the playoffs two years, but then has his knee shredded on his first pass ever in the post season (a 77 yard bomb by the way) . . .)
The Bengals do something they are loathe to do: they deal a malcontent, sending Chad Ochocinco to the Patriots. At first these seems like a total loss for the Bengals. But this essentially ends Chad's career and earns the Bengals an extra draft choice. Best of all it sends the brash and loud Ochocinco to a franchise that won't tolerate his foolishness for a second. And he rarely plays and only catches a handful of passes.
Next, the Bengals turn down a ton of draft picks from the Falcons to move down in the draft. The Bengals stay put and draft AJ Green, who becomes an absolute terror for them, earning Pro Bowl honors his first two years in the league. In the second round, the Colts fail to draft Andy Dalton, believing Peyton Manning's injury won't be so severe (it is and he has to sit out the entire year and their coach and GM are fired). This allows Dalton to slide all the way to the Bengals in the second round.
Together Dalton and Green help lead the Bengals to the playoffs in their rookie years.
Then before the trade deadline, the Bengals pull off grand larceny when they fleece the Oakland Raiders for a first round and second round picks for Carson Palmer.
Eventually, the Bengals go 9-7 and make the playofss, only to be trounced 31-10 in the playoffs by Houston, but it's remarkable.
This year hopes were high. And when they were sitting 3-1 with a very favorable schedule awaiting them, things couldn't have looked much better.
In typical Bengal fashion, they lost all those games and sat a miserable 3-5 at the midpoint of the year with the Super Bowl champion New York Giants coming to town.
Then something totally un-Bengal like happened, they crushed the Giants and their defense began playing very, very well. Their running game picked up and despite some mediocre play from Dalton, the Bengals were able to go 7-1 the last half of the season (the only loss came 19-20 on a last second field goal by Dallas after the Bengals dropped three game winning interceptions) to qualify for the playoffs.
Now the Bengals face the Texans again in a rematch of last year's first round playoff game.
Then Bengals can win (they are after all 7-1 in the last 8 games and Houston has lost 3 in a row). But it won't be easy. I mean after all the Vikings beat Houston in Houston just a few weeks ago! Come on man!
The Bengals can win . . . IF
1. Andy Dalton doesn't get sacked 10 times, throw any Pick Sixes (he has four of them this season), can hit AJ Green on a couple deep balls (he has not done so since beating Oakland in late November), and convert on third down.
2. Ben Garvis Green-Ellis, the Law Firm, can gain 100 yards. He has done is in 4 of the last 6 games.
3. The defense (led by All-World DT Geno Atkins and excellent DE Michael Johnson) can get pressure on Matt Schaub and keep All-Word Arian Foster from ripping off too many big runs.
4. They win the turnover battle (Bengals safety Chris Crocker dropped an easy Pick Six that would have tied the game at 17-17 last year).
5. The Bengals offensive line, which has struggled lately, can keep JJ Watt to just a couple sacks and no forced fumbles or interceptions (the killer play last year was when Watt batted and intercepted a pass to put the Texans up 17-10 right before the half)
But if they don't do each of those five things, I won't be blogging about the Bengals until it's time for my mock draft, which would be around April or so!
We'll see . . .