It's that time of the year again. Dead season is coming to an end and every NFL team sits with a 0-0 record and endless expectations. On Monday's Nick Cattles Show, we did our bold predictions for the upcoming football season. Mine was bold, if not dumb. I said, not only do they finally win a playoff game; the Cincinatti Bengals will win the Super Bowl this year.
It sounds crazy, but is it any crazier than my 2015 prediction of the Falcons going to the Super Bowl? (I looked like a genius for the first six weeks of the season by the way). We all associate the Bengals with postseason failure throughout the team's history. I'm only looking at last season though, which saw the Bengals start 8-0 and finish with the third best record in the entire league, 12-4. Had it not been for an injured Andy Dalton, I think Cincy could've made a deep run in the postseason. But, I'll at least acknowledge that I may be alone with that theory. Most NFL fans refuse to buy into the Bengals and I understand why...
Two causes for concern:
Whenever someone makes the easy point of, "he hasn't won a playoff game," be sure to remind that person that Lewis coordinated the 2000 Ravens defense that won the Super Bowl. I've never seen a guy gets less credit for assembling one of the all-time greatest units the NFL has ever seen. Lewis took over the Bengals in 2003. Since then, he has posted a 112-94 career record. His .543 win percentage is better than notable coaches like Jon Gruden, Dan Reeves, Dick Vermeil, Tom Coughlin and Jeff Fisher. Lewis receives most criticism for how his team performs after the regular season though. After the Bengals won their division in 2005, Carson Palmer went down with a game-ending injury on his first pass of the game against the Steelers in the postseason. They fell to the Jets in 2009 and the dark playoff cloud began to rain hard on Lewis and the Bengals after that. Two consecutive losses at Houston were followed by absolute no-shows against the Chargers and Colts in back-to-back years. 2015 nearly erased history for Lewis though. His team was less than a minute away from beating the Steelers with their backup QB until Vontaze Burfict and Pacman Jones took matters into their own hands. Anyone who blames Lewis for those miscues is irrational, yet, of course, everything seemingly falls on Lewis' shoulders.
Before being injured, Dalton quietly racked up some of the best passing numbers in the league last year. Project his 3,250 passing yards to a full season and you have exactly 4,000 yards through the air. That's more than Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton. His 7 interceptions were fewest in the league amongst QBs that threw at least 386 passes. Dalton's career record of 50-26-1 bests other notable QBs drafted alongside him in 2011 such as, Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick. Dalton's early career playoff woes also put him in some elite company. Peyton Manning lost his first three playoff games. With 124 TDs compared to just 73 picks, simply put, Dalton has been one of the most productive passers in the league since entering the pros.
Two reasons for optimism:
The AFC could be weak this season. It wasn't exactly tough last season; a broken-down Peyton Manning won the Super Bowl, if you'll recall. There is no way the Broncos can match last year's record of 12-4. The Patriots will be without Tom Brady for four games. The Pittsburgh Steelers will once again enter the year without Le'Veon Bell. Who knows what to expect from Andrew Luck and the Colts. Is Brock Osweiler really the missing piece in Houston and will the Bills, Jets and Dolphins continue to be the Bills, Jets and Dolphins?
Strength of Schedule
The Bengals have the 4th easiest schedule in the entire NFL and get perhaps four of their toughest games out of the way in the first 6 weeks - at Pittsburgh, vs Denver, at Dallas, at New England. They could be sitting pretty in the AFC North by the time the end of November rolls around and they only have the Bills, Eagles, Browns, and Ravens left to face. It's also quite possible that Cincy won't even need 12 wins to take the division this year. The Steelers finished second last season with a 10-6 record and relied on a Jets loss in week 17 just to qualify for postseason play.
All factors considered, my Bengals Super Bowl pick is a much safer bet than my Falcons hunch of 2015. Am I crazy for picking Cncy to win it all? No, I'm not crazy or as the Joker would say, "I'm not a monster, I'm just ahead of the curve."
- Brian Benesch (@IMean_ThisGuy)