The Cincinnati Bengals surprised the football world with their 2021-22 Super Bowl run. There’s confidence that last season wasn’t a one-hit wonder. Much of that is thanks to the presence of quarterback Joe Burrow and a strong cast of offensive weapons.
With a number of additions to the offensive line this season, optimism is high for another successful campaign. Some of the industry’s top sportsbooks, however, have installed the Bengals’ win total at 9.5. The “Super Bowl hangover” is somewhere in between a myth and legitimate concern — for teams that lose in particular. The win total still seems conservative given the present talent on the team and reinforcements added in the draft and free agency.
Cincinnati’s moves led us to consider the Bengals’ best offseasons in franchise history. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll list these in descending chronological order.
When can we bet?: Ohio sports betting to launch statewide on Jan. 1, 2023
2022: “Just a guy and his security detail.”
Throwing a young quarterback behind a shoddy offensive line is arguably the quickest way to stunt — or completely derail — his career. Last season, Burrow endured a staggering 83 sacks across 26 starts — or 3.2 sacks per game. He was taken down five or more times on seven occasions including the postseason.
Even for neutral observers, it’s a relief to see the Bengals sink so much capital into their front line. They added tackle La’el Collins, guard Alex Kappa, and center Ted Karras via free agency, and drafted tackle Cordell Volson. The influx of offensive line talent will provide upgrades, depth, and competition that will ultimately result in improved protection, and in theory, a better offense and a better Bengals team overall.
2021: All-Pro caliber connection
The raging debate regarding the Bengals and their No. 5 overall pick was how to best protect Burrow. Do you secure his blindside with Oregon tackle Penei Sewell? Or do you provide him a dynamic weapon in Ja’Marr Chase? They opted for the latter to electrifying results. Burrow and Chase renewed their LSU connection and hit the ground running in spite of some overblown concern with preseason drops. Chase finished as a second-team All-Pro after posting an 81-1,455-13 line on 128 targets.
Chase was the crown of the Bengals’ offseason, but certainly not the only impactful acquisition. Defensively, edge rusher Trey Hendrickson made good on his lucrative deal, recording a career-best 14 sacks before adding another 3.5 in the playoffs. Additionally, cornerback Chidobe Awuzie was a fixture in the Bengals secondary, and played no fewer than 97% of the snaps in all four postseason contests.
Finally, the (re)hiring of offensive line coach Frank Pollack shouldn’t be overlooked. Running back Joe Mixon expressed his excitement upon hearing the news: “I am super excited for coach Pollack to be back. He’s proven he’s the best in the business.” Pollack didn’t fix the Bengals’ pass-protection holes in Year 1, but Mixon did enjoy a career year, totaling 1,519 yards and 16 touchdowns. Pollack’s presence should mesh well with the upgraded offensive line talent in 2022.
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2020: Joe Cool, face of the franchise
Fresh off an utterly dominant NCAA season that culminated in the dismantling of Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson Tigers in the CFP championship game, Joe Burrow was the consensus No. 1 pick. It’s one thing to draft a quarterback in the first round hoping that he becomes the face of the franchise. It’s an entirely different thing when that guy comes in and immediately sets the tone on and off the field. By all accounts Burrow has done just that in spite of having his rookie season cut short after 10 games.
A quarterback is often only as good as his weapons, so it made perfect sense for the Bengals to nab Tee Higgins at the top of the second round. While Higgins is overshadowed a bit by Chase these days, he’s no slouch and is capable of delivering big plays and performances. He produced two 100-yard games during the postseason and fell four yards short of adding a third. One couldn’t ask for a much better wide receiver duo than Higgins and Chase.
While offense certainly sells tickets, a pair of defensive signings — D.J. Reader and Vonn Bell — eventually emerged as fixtures for the Bengals throughout their Super Bowl run.
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2011: Opening a new window
The Bengals finished 4-12 in 2010, “earning” the Nos. 4 and 35 overall picks. They made the most out of them, selecting wide receiver A.J. Green at No. 4 and quarterback Andy Dalton with their second-round pick at No. 35. While Dalton had his limitations, he and Green formed a prolific duo that helped lead the Bengals to five playoff appearances and two division titles.
Jay Gruden also began his tenure as Bengals offensive coordinator, an appointment whose value can’t be overlooked. He helped guide the development of Dalton and the gradual improvement of the offense. The Bengals finished 22nd in scoring in 2010, the season prior to Gruden’s arrival. And from 2011 through 2015, the Bengals ranked 18th, 12th, 6th, 15th, and 7th.
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2003: Dawn of a new era
When the Bengals hired Marvin Lewis to be their head coach ahead of the 2003 season, they were in the midst of a 12-season playoff drought. In addition to adding a new sideline boss, the Bengals also used the No. 1 overall pick to select USC quarterback Carson Palmer, and followed that up by adding guard Eric Steinbach to help protect their rookie quarterback.
While the Bengals never advanced beyond the wildcard round under Lewis, he did produce more playoff berths (seven) than losing seasons (six). And had it not been for a torn ACL suffered on Palmer’s first pass in Cincinnati’s 2005 wildcard matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, they may have had the goods to advance to the next round.
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