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Why the Bengals Will Not Experience The “Super Bowl Hangover”

Despite their Super Bowl run last year, the Bengals are being overlooked as a serious contender in 2022. Here’s why anyone doubting Cincinnati should be wary going into the season.

The AFC is expected to be extremely competitive in 2022, with multiple teams from every division being serious contenders for the conference title for the first time in several years. Between the AFC West loading up on talent all over, the Colts adding Matt Ryan, the Dolphins building out a competitive roster, the Ravens getting healthy, and the ever-present threat of the Chiefs and Bills, it is easy to see why many in the national media are expecting the conference to be a bloodbath. However, one team that very few are tabbing as a team that could come out on top is the very same team that won it last year: the Cincinnati Bengals.

The doubt around the Bengals is due to several factors, and unfortunately, chief amongst them is likely historical success. Cincinnati was an upstart team last year after years of being at the bottom of the conference, and many people outside Ohio likely see their success last year as a flash-in-the-pan. Additionally, they are undergoing some changes at key positions; tight end CJ Uzomah, who was a major factor in their title run in 2021, is no longer on the team. Meanwhile, star safety Jessie Bates III is holding out of camp after being franchise tagged, and while the belief is that he will end up reporting before the regular season, it is a cause for concern.

However, despite all those factors, I would argue that there might not be a team better positioned to overcome the “Super Bowl hangover” than the Bengals. For context, it is typically believed that teams who lose the Super Bowl tend to struggle the next year for a litany of reasons: having a target on their backs, losing key players or staff members, not making proper adjustments, or even just simply peaking. These factors do not apply as much to the 2022 Bengals this year as they have for teams like the 2016 Panthers or the 2017 Falcons, and I will explore why Cincinnati is primed to not only overcome the hangover but compete for the top spot in the conference and the league once again.

Bengals’ Conference Competition Is Flawed

This statement might come as a shocker; in many ways, the AFC is an enormously talented conference from top to bottom, with contenders in every single division. However, outside of maybe Buffalo, I would have a hard time saying that any one team is better than a team like the Buccaneers or the Rams from a complete roster standpoint.

Starting within the division, the Bengals’ biggest competition will likely come from the Ravens, returning a huge amount of talent they lost to injury in 2021. However, Baltimore is dealing with losses of their own, especially at the receiver position. They lost their top target in Marquise Brown in a trade to Arizona, while Sammy Watkins departed in free agency to Green Bay. Neither of these losses are massive on their own, but both represent hits to an already shaky receiving corps that is now hoping to be buoyed by second-year receiver Rashod Bateman and not much else.

The Ravens will undoubtedly be a better team with the wealth of talent they have to return from injury and a great draft, but they might not be able to surpass Cincinnati in a pass-happy conference. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh and Cleveland both have loads of talent, but questions at the quarterback position likely keep both teams out of the upper echelon of the AFC.

The AFC West loaded up on talent all over, but every team still has question marks. One could argue the most complete team is the Chargers, but we have yet to see the Herbert and Staley regime take that next step. With the additions of Khalil Mack and JC Jackson, that could come this year, but I have a hard time projecting a team that failed to make the playoffs last year to be the conference’s representative in the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, Kansas City is dealing with losses at receiver and defensive back in the forms of Tyreek Hill and Tyrann Mathieu, respectively. Both of these players were major lynchpins for their units, and while the Chiefs will still be competitive, they lack the bite that they once had.

The Broncos added future Hall of Fame quarterback Russell Wilson from Seattle, but he is entering a situation not dissimilar to the one he just left; talented skill position players but a shaky offensive line and a defense that lacks a major big play threat. Finally, the Raiders made major additions in the forms of Davante Adams and Chandler Jones, but I need to see a little more from Derek Carr before I label them the team to beat in the conference.

The other conference competition is held back by the quarterback position. Tua Tagovailoa, Mac Jones, and Ryan Tannehill are all mid-tier quarterbacks that I have a hard time seeing leading their teams to postseason success, and Matt Ryan is likely on his last legs as a player. That’s not to say their teams cannot succeed, but if they have to go to Buffalo, Cincinnati, or Kansas City in January, I’m definitely taking the home teams. And that leads me to Buffalo, the team I would argue has the best shot of unseating Cincinnati as AFC Champions. They are supremely talented everywhere on the roster and will be a tough out on any week, but one area Cincinnati does have an edge is postseason success. While that does not mean a ton on the surface, it wonders for a team’s confidence when they’ve made it to the Super Bowl versus stalled out in the previous weeks.

If Buffalo and Cincinnati meet in the AFC Championship Game, will the Bills have a monkey on its back that the Bengals might not? That reasoning is entirely theoretical, but one thing is clear to me: the Bengals and Bills are the two best teams in the conference, and the other fourteen teams have to go through them.

Bengals Improved Their Biggest Weakness

How many “Super Bowl Hangover” teams had flaws as glaring as Cincinnati’s offensive line last year? The fact that the Bengals were within two minutes of winning it all with one of the worst lines in playoff history is an accomplishment in and of itself. They did an excellent job of addressing that issue in the offseason with the additions of La’el Collins, Alex Cappa, and Ted Karras, the latter of whom is already drawing rave reviews in camp. Those additions, combined with improvements from Jonah Williams and Jackson Carman, could take Joe Burrow’s bodyguards from one of the worst units in the league to above average, which could be all it takes to get back to the big game in February.

Outside of the offensive line, the other flaw Cincinnati overcame throughout the season was the secondary. Trae Waynes rarely played and was a liability when he did, and while Eli Apple had a solid season by his standards, it was clear that this was an area that the team could upgrade. The Bengals did exactly that in the draft, with the additions of rookies Dax Hill and Cam Taylor-Britt. With Jessie Bates III sitting out training camp, the addition of Hill looks better and better each day, and it doesn’t hurt that he has had a fantastic camp in Bates’ stead. Similar reviews have come out about cornerback Taylor-Britt, who has flashed great potential even while covering star receivers in Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd. If the young guys in the secondary hit, their fit next to players like Bates, Vonn Bell, Chidobe Awuzie, and Mike Hilton is enticing to say the least.

Bengals Returned Last Year’s Talent

Perhaps the thing that hampers Super Bowl losers the most is the fact that their coaching staffs and rosters tend to get picked over by teams hoping to get a taste of that glory. You can see that in teams like the 2016 Panthers, who lost then-star cornerback Josh Norman, or the 2017 Falcons, who lost their genius play-caller, Kyle Shanahan. Meanwhile, the Bengals lost…CJ Uzomah. That’s not to discredit CJ or the impact he made on the team, but almost every major contributor from last year’s roster is back for another run this season. In fact, the only position group outside of tight end that is not seeing every starter from the Super Bowl returning for 2022 is the offensive line, where they made significant improvements and willingly let guys like Quinton Spain and Trey Hopkins go.

Cincinnati also did an admirable job of retaining talent on their coaching staff as well, keeping both coordinators, every single offensive assistant, and all but two defensive assistants. It is pretty common for teams that experienced the overnight success that Cincinnati did to see their staffs picked over, and while Brian Callahan and Lou Anarumo both got well-deserved head coaching interviews, they both will be on the sidelines or in the booth for the Bengals once again in 2022. With all the talent coming into the building, it is easy to forget all the talent staying put, but that could be just as crucial, if not more, when determining who will make it out of the AFC.

The Bengals Could Just Be Getting Started

You could look at all these reasons listed above and say “yeah, but…” to each of them, and you could make some compelling points. However, the biggest thing that leads me to believe that Cincinnati is primed to dominate the conference again this year is the fact that they weren’t even supposed to be here. In fact, they were the youngest and least established roster to ever make the Super Bowl per FiveThirtyEight. Anyone who thinks that the Bengals have peaked is going off of the impression that players like Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Joe Mixon (just to name a few of their stars who aren’t even 26 years old yet) will fail to improve this season and in the coming years. Add onto that the fact that Zac Taylor himself is one of the youngest coaches in the league and has only been calling plays for three years, each of which has seen dramatic growth in his ability in this regard, and I see no reason to believe that the Bengals will not continue to soar.

It is so easy in the NFL to always have an eye ahead and look for the next big thing, but I think we might need to accept that the next big thing has already arrived, and that’s the Cinncinati Bengals. That’s not to say that they will dominate the conference for the next decade like the Patriots of the 2000s and 2010s did, but they are here to stay as a competitive team in the AFC. Between the talent, they brought back and the talent they brought in, Cincinnati is poised to be a contender for the Super Bowl again in 2022.

If you want to continue doubting, that’s fine, but I will warn you: betting against Joe Burrow rarely works out.

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