The Cincinnati Bengals have had a meteoric rise to the top of the NFL in 2021 and if they defeat the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl, they will have completed a historic two-year turnaround under Zac Taylor.
After finishing 6-10 in 2018, Cincy fired long-time head coach Marvin Lewis and hired a Sean McVay disciple in Taylor. The results were horrid in year one at 2-14 and not much better in the second go-round at 4-11-1 — Joe Burrow’s rookie campaign. Then something clicked the last offseason, and the rest is history.
ESPN reporter Rich Cimini recently noted: “[The Bengals are] only the third team to go from the worst record to the Super Bowl in a two-year span, and their 2020 win total matches the fewest victories in the year prior to winning a conference championship.” Even if they lose, that’s pretty darn good.
Now everyone wants to know, who’s going to be the next Bengals story in 2022?
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Lions — Not Jets — ‘Ready to Vault Into Contention’ in 2022
In an article via Bleacher Report, NFL analyst Alex Kay detailed four below-.500 teams that could make a significant jump next season.
As the old children’s song goes, “one of these things is not like the other.” The Ravens were an 8-9 team with a former MVP quarterback — Lamar Jackson — on the sidelines most of the season, they’ll be fine.
The Broncos and newly rebranded Commanders weren’t too far off either at seven wins. These three franchises would not represent an awakening on a Bengals scale if they made the Super Bowl next year.
The fourth would, and Kay choosing Detroit over the Jets in this spot should be looked at as an ultimate snub. “The upstart Detroit Lions were more competitive this past season than their 3-13-1 record suggested,” the analyst wrote. “They lost by a single score six times and by a field goal or less four times.”
Of course, the Lions share one factor with the Jets — both staffs coached the Senior Bowl.
After touting resources like the No. 2 overall pick, a second late-first, rookie breakout Amon-Ra St. Brown and some cap space, Kay concluded that “with head coach Dan Campbell getting another offseason to train this young roster up, the Lions could be the Cinderella story of the 2022 season.”
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Overlooking Gang Green
No offense to the Lions but it feels like the Green & White are being slept on in this article. I’m not saying the Jets are going to make the Super Bowl but compared side-by-side to Detroit, they should have better odds.
For starters, NYJ has more total “offseason capital.” That’s not an opinion, ESPN ranked Gang Green second in the NFL in this metric that combines draft assets and cap space in 2022. First place was the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Kay wrote: “Detroit will have ample opportunity to speed its rebuild up during this offseason, boasting 10 selections in the 2022 draft—including the No. 2 overall pick and a late first-rounder from the Rams—and nearly $24 million in projected cap space.”
GM Joe Douglas may only have nine picks in 2022 at the moment but he has two selections in the top 10 and that Rams pick will only turn into No. 31 or 32 for the Lions. Don’t forget cap space. The Jets have accumulated over $48 million, which is actually double Detroit’s projected amount above.
Then there’s the current roster. Like New York, the Lions have some young pieces but they also have some major weaknesses.
One is Jared Goff. Yes, I’m aware the former first-round pick has been to a Super Bowl but most would agree he was carried there by an all-star lineup and coaching staff in Los Angeles. Matthew Stafford’s 2021 run supports that theory.
Goff is serviceable but we all know his ceiling. Zach Wilson may not be the better quarterback at this moment but his ceiling is undefined. He also looks like a player with a skill set that can elevate those around him and we already know that Goff is not that.
Both defenses need a total overhaul ranking worst and second-worst in the NFL. Besides the fact that the Lions have a shot at Aidan Hutchinson or Kayvon Thibodeaux in the draft, this area is a wash.
Coaching is the final unknown. It’s too early to say whether Robert Saleh or Campbell will make a better head coach long-term but Saleh has been to a Super Bowl as a defensive coordinator in the past three years. Campbell can’t say that.
Will either of these franchises break their conference title drought in 2022? Probably not, but I’m not sure how one can rationalize that the Lions are closer than the Jets.