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The Bengals Are In Their Glory Years

Last year, Cincinnati outscored opponents by 140 points. That’s the largest margin in franchise history.

In 2011, the Bengals drafted Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, and the franchise has been in the playoffs every year since. In fact, over the last five years, Cincinnati has outscored opponents by 378 points, which is also the best rate over any five year period in Bengals history. As a result, it’s pretty easy to make the case that we have reached peak Bengals:

bengals pts diff

To use another metric, after beating the Browns to get to 8-0, Cincinnati reached an Elo Rating of 1672, the highest in franchise history.

The other top years also came when Cincinnati had very good quarterback play: Ken Anderson helped drive the team to success in the mid-’70s and a Super Bowl in 1981, while Boomer Esiason did the same in the late ’80s. The Bengals reached the playoffs twice under Carson Palmer and once with Virgil Carter, and Dalton is the only other quarterback to take the team to the playoffs.

What really stands out, though, is how this current run comes on the back of a 20-year period of misery. Take a look at the franchise’s cumulative points differential: i.e., how many points Cincinnati has outscored/been outscored by its opponents over the franchise’s history, measured at the end of every season:

bengals pd

From 1991 to 2010, the Bengals were outscored by 1,538 points, an average of 4.8 points per game. That was the second-worst margin in the NFL over that period, ahead of only the Cardinals. Since then, the Bengals have the fifth-best points differential in the NFL.

With an 0-7 playoff record, Marvin Lewis has the worst playoff record in NFL history. He has gone a record 13 consecutive years as the head coach of a team without winning a playoff game. And Cincinnati is an easy target to poke fun at, particularly given how last year’s playoff game ended.

But personally, I’ve done a 180 on Lewis. I think he’s one of the best coaches in the NFL, and given that he’s the de facto GM, he’s done a remarkable job building the franchise into — yes, this is right — one of the premier franchises in all of football. The Bengals are in terrific cap shape, with the lowest amount of dead money in the NFL this year. You may want to assign credit to ownership’s frugality for some of that, but given those constraints, the Bengals have managed to build a heck of a roster. Last year, only Reggie Nelson, Adam “Pac Man” Jones, A.J. Hawk, and Mike Nugent were regular contributors who were drafted by other teams. The Bengals consistently draft well, and focus on best player available rather than for need.

It’s easy to make fun of Cincinnati, but we should also marvel at the job Lewis has done turning the franchise around. On the heels of twenty years of terrible play, the Bengals are now one of the best-run teams in football.

  • sacramento gold miners

    Every franchise has a major error in its past, the Steelers bypassing Dan Marino in the 1983 draft, for example. But Paul Brown’s decision to not select Bill Walsh as his replacement starting with the 1976 season was huge.

  • Tom

    Agree with your last point about Marvin Lewis…I’m always taken aback when I hear someone say Lewis should be canned due to his lack of playoff success. Putting aside the fact that he’s completely turned this franchise around, as you point out, there are teams out there that haven’t had a sniff of a playoff game in years, and Lewis has taken them there 7 times…yeah, they should fire that guy, he stinks. Sheesh…and no, I’m not saying it’s “good enough just to get there”, but man, Cincinnati has to go up against the Ravens and the Steelers twice each every season…and they still manage to get in the playoffs. I’m alright with Lewis.

    • Richie

      Nice. I thought I was the only one who defends Lewis. I also defend Marty Schottenheimer.

      I haven’t decided for sure if those guys “choke” as coaches in the playoffs. But having a coach who consistently gets you to the playoffs is definitely a good thing.

      • Tom

        Yep, I feel the same way about Shottenheimer. I’m not a huge fan, I don’t know much about him, but I’m thinking, this guy went 14-2, gets into the playoffs, loses to one of the best teams in the entire history of the league on a missed field goal at the end, and he gets canned? I know the real reason was personality issues with the GM, etc., but I’ve actually heard friends say, “Yeah, he just couldn’t get it done, he just doesn’t have it”. I’m thinking, “Are you nuts?”

  • The part about being the de facto GM is importanmt and a more recent development that I think people realize. Go back to that 2010 season, the last Carson Palmer year and look at how THAT season ended, with the TO-Ocho show and Carson Palmer (correctly in my opinion) demanding a trade out of what had become a three ring circus. That was the offseason when I think Marvin finally completed his takeover of the team from Mike Brown.

  • Richie

    It would be fun to see that 2nd chart for every team. (The 1st one would probably be fun too.)

  • Richie

    How does a +378 point differential over 5 years compare historically to the all-time greats?

    • Richie

      Well, I took a quick look at 2 teams I thought might be candidates for best ever. The 83-87 49ers were +868. The 07-11 Patriots were +934.

  • McGeorge

    Marvin Lewis may be good at player evaluation and development. OR at least know what coaches to hire.
    But in the 2015 playoffs he lost control of his team, He does bear some of the blame for his teams loss.