In case you haven’t heard, the 54th Super Bowl will be taking place this Sunday in Miami, Florida. On one side you have the Kansas City Chiefs, who have made the playoffs for the past five seasons and have been a staple of consistency under Andy Reid. On the other side of the field stand the San Francisco 49ers, who not too long ago endured a (2-14) season similar to the Bengals’ 2019 season. In looking at these two teams, Bengals fans can stand to be encouraged about the prospects of a playoff berth occurring sooner rather than later.
In general, the NFL Playoffs see fairly consistent turnover season to season. Over the past five seasons, an average of five of the 12 playoff teams are newcomers from the previous season, with only the Patriots, Chiefs, Seahawks, and Texans making more than three playoff appearances during that time. Remarkably, 29 of the 32 NFL teams have made at least one playoff appearance since the 2015 – 2016 season (pour one out for the Browns, Buccaneers, and Jets). We also have seen teams make rather
quick turnarounds, which we can see in looking at team win/loss records since 2015. Since 2015, there have been 14 different instances of teams adding at least six wins to their previous season total. Just this season, we saw the NFC representatives in the Super Bowl jump from four wins to 13. While predicting win/loss records for the upcoming season is a futile effort (especially in January), it would not be unheard of to see the Bengals make a major leap in 2020 and flirt with 8-9 wins. While that is not likely enough to enter the playoff picture, it would be a gigantic step forward in the right direction and lay the foundation for a potential 2021 playoff run.
When looking at the Kansas City Chiefs, we can simplify their blueprint as such: The Chiefs win with a masterful offensive scheme that gets their plethora of playmakers into space, relying on their elite quarterback and outstanding athletes on the outside to win. Their defense is opportunistic in forcing turnovers and creating sacks, even if they yield higher yardage amounts. It would behoove the Bengals to try to mirror the Chiefs blueprint as closely as possible, and I believe just a few moves could put them
on the right track.
On the offensive side of the ball, it starts with the quarterback position. Andy Dalton is a fine quarterback but by now we know he is not the guy that will lead us to the promised land. While Joe Burrow is a complete unknown at the professional level, there is reason to believe based on his most recent body of work along with the traits he displayed in full this past college season, that he can be a franchise quarterback. A quarterback that is able to make plays (that is, making things happen when plays begin to breakdown or do not go according to plan) frees up an entire offense and helps cover some of those warts that can creep up from time to time. Add in an offensive play-caller now entering his second season with a disposal of weapons on offense (Boyd, Mixon, Tate, and potentially A.J. Green)
to accompany his rookie quarterback and Zac Taylor should be able to unleash a little more firepower than what we saw last season with the likes of Ryan Finley, Alex Erickson, and CJ Uzomah all playing meaningful snaps. A free agent signing of a solid backend defender like Justin Simmons (90.8 PFF grade, four interceptions) or Anthony Harris (90.5 PFF grade, six interceptions) and continued growth of Carl Lawson and Sam Hubbard would potentially go a long way towards helping this defense force more
Now, is it likely that the Bengals become major spenders in free agency? Probably not, even if they do have $49 million in cap space with the potential of having $75+ million with the trade/release of Dalton and Cordy Glenn. But you can see that in just a few moves, they could very well become a formidable foe come next season. We know some team(s) is going to see a major increase in wins next season, and most likely nearly half of the playoff field will look different than it did this season. The Bengals can make that leap and return to the playoffs for the first time in half a decade.