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:
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:
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.