After being picked by nearly every pundit on the planet (and much of the fan base) to go 0-16 on the low side to 4-12 on the high side last year, there is no doubt that the 2011 season was perceived as a resounding success in all circles. But with improved performance comes increased expectations. And that leaves me wondering as we come down the stretch: what constitutes “success” for this season in your eyes?
Multiple Pro Bowl Selections. Only A.J. Green was made the team on his own. But the Bengals sent 3 more — Andy Dalton, Geno Atkins and Jermaine Gresham — as injury replacements. This year, Green and Atkins would seem to be near locks for the team. Several others could make a case for joining them. Clint Boling, Michael Johnson, Kevin Zeitler and Jermaine Gresham come to mind. But if the Bengals send several guys to Hawaii but end up 8-8 this year, how satisfying is thiat really?
Back-to-Back Winning Season. This hasn’t happened since the 1981 (12-4) and strike-shortened 1982 (7-2) seasons. For back-to-back winning complete seasons, we have to go back to 1975 (11-3) and 1976 (10-4) and 1977 (8-6). That was the heart of the Big Red Machine era, and the Star Wars franchise finally became more than just an idea in George Lucas’ head.
Current;y being three wins away from this mark, I’d say that matching 2011′s record has to be the bare minimum for success. It would mean that TV commentators could no longer cite the records above, which would be a small gift in itself. Is that enough for you to use the word “success” with this team?
Back-to-Back Playoff Appearances. It’s only happened once in team history: 1981 & 1982. I’d love the team to make the talking heads at ESPN shut up about this one as well. But with three one-and-done playoff appearances in the past seven years, would you be OK with a fourth?
A Playoff Win. The Texans are in the driver’s seat for tops in the conference and a bye, so it’s unlikely we have to consider them as a matchup. How anxious are you to see a Bengals-Patroits matchup? If the D-line could pressure Brady consistently without help, they’d have a shot. But if this matchup could be avoided, I’d prefer that.
I think the team would do better in a Bengals-Broncos rematch now that their mojo is working again. Ask me if I think they have a good shot at beating Manning the Elder, though, and I’m gonna hedge my bets. Doable? Yes. Probable? Uhhh…
Call me crazy, but I say the Bengals’ best path to a playoff win is to draw a 4-5 (or 3-6) matchup against the Ravens. [How strange would it be to play the same team in Week 17 and in the first round of the playoffs for the second time in four years?] I know they got blown out in Week 1, but a lot has changed since then. The team has finally gelled. The Ravens’ offense is oddly mediocre. Their offense is not as potent as they were in the first 6 weeks of the season. They have yet to play the Broncos, the Giants and the Redskins in addition to ending the season in Cincinnati. A couple of late losses by the Ravens could be just what a surging young Bengals team needs.
A Trip To New Orleans. The recent past has taught us that the hot teams beat the good teams. If the Bengals keep their focus and poise, they could become one of those hot teams. Does Marvin Lewis and his team garner the label of “success” from you for 2012 only if he takes the team to their 3rd ever SuperBowl game?
Hoisting The Lombardi. I know a few cynics out there feel this way. How about for you? Will you only be satisfied with World Champions?
Remember, my question is not what you hope to see happen in 2012. We all want the Lombardi if we can get it. I want to know what it will take to get you to say to a follow Bengals fan, “You know, the Bengals had a good year this year. I’m on the bandwagon! I can’t wait for 2013.”