If there were ever a year to stumble in the AFC North, this would be it. The Ravens and Steelers sit atop the division at 6-5, with the Bengals on the outside looking in at 3-7-1 (we won’t mention the Browns who are 0-12). Year after year, the AFC North has been one of the most competitive divisions in the league- sending multiple teams to the playoffs for the majority of the past decade. So, the Bengals mishaps this season have been even more unfortunate considering the opportunity that has presented itself.
Losers of 3 straight games and now missing their franchise player, A.J. Green, the defending AFC champs hope looks bleak: they’ll need to win their remaining 5 games, and have Baltimore and Pittsburgh both lose 3 of their next 5 match-ups to reach the playoffs. Mathematically, there’s still a chance. However, it’s a lost cause crunching numbers when you see the product the Bengals have had out on the field so far this season.
Widely regarded as one of the most complete teams in the NFL a year ago, the Bengals now have plenty of issues all across the field. Although they’ve dealt with their share of injury issues, they were supposed to have the depth to overcome the physical demands of the NFL season. Every team across the league deals with injuries, so chalking up a 3-7-1 start due to injury for this team shouldn’t stand up.
The reality is, players they’ve counted on haven’t produced. Jeremy Hill has continued to struggle finding consistency running the football behind a shaky offensive line, who have also allowed 32 sacks on Andy Dalton (3rd most in the league). The once-stout defense has looked very pedestrian, and the team continues to stick by a kicker who’s routinely missing extra points.
The development of players like former first-rounder CB Darqueze Dennard has been underwhelming, especially after Marvin Lewis described him as “the best rookie corner I’ve seen” two years ago. Other young players have also struggled when asked to step into a larger role so far this season, specifically along the offensive line. There are problems all over the board for the Bengals, raising the question of what’s next for the franchise. Is it time for coach Marvin Lewis and Cincinnati to finally go their separate ways? Could be.
Although Lewis has elevated the franchise from the bottom of the league over the years, his tenure has not gone without controversy. Marvin still has not won a playoff game in Cincinnati in 7 attempts. Elsewhere, that would undoubtedly be a reason for firing, but the front office has chosen to take Lewis with the good and the bad up to this point. Considering the Bengals reputation for shrinking in primetime, a breath of fresh air with a new coach at the helm might be what the team needs.
On the other hand, do you risk a coaching change with a skilled group of young players returning next season at full health? Across the field, the Bengals still possess the weapons of a championship caliber team. There are certainly changes that need to be addressed, but considering the talent and youth at the skill positions, a change might take on some unnecessary risk.
Marvin Lewis’ fate has been a topic of discussion each of the last few years, with the seat getting hotter every time. Barring a miraculous resurgence these last five weeks, it’s safe to say this offseason it will be hotter than any other. Realistically, I think Lewis is given a chance at redemption for one more season (seriously, just one more this time). His contract is set to go through 2017 so I believe next season will truly be his make or break year. Let’s hope if that’s the case were not still begging for action from the front office a year from now. There’s too much talent in Cincinnati to let it go to waste, and the window of opportunity is shrinking.