Some people are fans of the Cincinnati Bengals. But many, many more people are NOT fans of the Cincinnati Bengals. This 2022 Defector NFL team preview is for those in the latter group. Read all the previews so far here.
Your team: Cincinnati Bengals.
Your 2021 record: 10-7. AFC Champions. There’s a fine line between grit and luck, with the latter often deliberately depicted as the former. But even the Bengals themselves, while having the general look of a professional football team a year ago, know which side of that line they resided on.
Before they won the AFC North (somewhat by default), and before they went on a playoff run in which none of their games were decided by more than a touchdown, these were still very much the Bengals, I assure you. To wit: they needed an overtime fumble to beat the Vikings, and that fumble (***HOMER ALERT***) was a bullshit call. They lost 20-17 to the Bears, and somehow that score was much, much closer than the game ever was. They were the primary catalyst for Mike White-sanity (he threw for 400 yards against them in a Jets victory), which captivated 35 percent of New Yorkers for a solid week and a half. They got swept by the Browns. Convincingly.
They went down 24-0 to the Chargers, came back to within two, and then got blown out of the water for the entire fourth quarter. They had pass protection so awful that even the Dolphins’ O-line was like, Thank God we’re not those guys! They let Mason Crosby work himself out of an in-game slump to beat them at the gun; God, I hate Mason Crosby. They scored first in overtime against the Niners, but then lost anyway. If this were an NFL Films yearbook, all of these fuckups would be presented as divine obstacles that the Bengals overcame through sheer determination and perseverance. In reality, it was all extremely normal Bengals shit.
And the prospect of the Bengals reverting to form loomed over a season in which they needed History’s Most Inadvertent Whistle to dispatch a grubby Raiders team, Mike Vrabel to run a two-minute drill seemingly designed to end in a gift interception, and Andy Reid to revisit his vintage choking form in the second half of the AFC title game. That all of that happened was fluky on the level of you being born. I give the Bengals no credit for it. Could have happened for any other team. Eli Manning knows of what I speak.
But hey, they made the Super Bowl and became America’s Darlings in the process. Then the game started and their quarterback was sacked another 50 times (one more Football Outsiders note for the road: the 2021 Bengals “gave up 13 sacks we charted as ‘rusher untouched’ (no other unit gave up double figures).” They got two turnovers off of LA but committed four of their own. They ran Samaje Perine in vital situations when you shouldn’t hand the ball to Samaje Perine in any situation of any kind. Their offensive line may as well have not existed in that game, nor in any other, as Burrow was sacked an appalling seven times.
And yet there the Bengals were, scoring a 75-yard TD on the opening play of the second half, picking the ball off on the very NEXT play, and then getting a field goal to extend their lead to a touchdown. It was enough to make you (me, really) believe that yes, this could actually happen.
After that, they were never heard from again.
Once they hit that field goal, the Bengals would amass just 50 more yards on offense. On defense, they surrendered the single the most anticlimactic game-winning touchdown drive you’ll ever witness: 15 plays, 79 yards, and 57 ticky-ticky-ticky-ticky-tack penalty flags. Everyone knew the Rams would give the ball to Cooper Kupp every play on that drive. The Bengals, apparently, did not. Whatever the opposite of magic is, that’s what I saw on my screen that evening. I wish I had watched old Dude Perfect videos the whole time instead. Joe Burrow had Ja’Marr Chase wide open down the field on the deciding play of that game, but Aaron Donald ate Burrow before he could even spot it. This is where you and I bust out the same old “Same Old Bengals” gag. No more fitting time for it.
Your coach: Zac Taylor. I will never buy into Zac Taylor, and neither will anyone else I know.
Your quarterback: My son Joe Burrow. As of now, Burrow is already a legend thanks to authoring a run so memorable that, when combined with his LSU title, would lead anyone to believe that he’s only just getting started. Here now is the hater’s truth: Joe Burrow will suffer two more catastrophic knee injuries within a year of one another and never be the same again. Not unlike what happened to this guy.
Remember that, Bengals fans? Couldn’t possibly happen to you again. No way. Your lives are far too charmed for such rotten luck. I am Ricky Bobby and I have put that evil on you. Joe Burrow saw his appendix go kablooey a few weeks ago, and people are already trying to poison his orange juice. And he may seem like a cool guy, but that just means that, in 10 years, he’ll be on the animated corpse of Joe Rogan’s podcast, talking about how only the weak-minded can get cancer.
Your backup is Brandon Allen. Get used to seeing him more often than you’d care to.
What’s new that sucks: This offseason, the Bengals officially recognized that their pass protection was a bit of an issue, so they overhauled the entire right side of the offensive line, bringing in center Ted Karras (from the Pats), right guard Alex Cappa (from the Bucs), and right tackle La’el Collins (from the Cowboys). Hayden Hurst, who is not Hunter Henry, is your new tight end. These are all good moves, and yet the specter of regressing to the mean lingers over this squad, so much so that I wonder if they’ll spend the entirety of 2022 running plays from the 50. And did the Bengals front office lowball one of their own stars to make these other moves happen? They sure as shit did.
NFL players adore it when you tag them. Makes them feel loved. In an effort to give Jessie Bates more help in the secondary before he flees to another team, the Bengals drafted Dax Hill and Cam Taylor-Britt in the first two rounds of the draft. Given that the organization’s scouting department consists of old VHS tapes of Mel Kiper raving about Jimmy Clausen, I am convinced they drafted Dax Hill strictly because they thought his name was cool.
They still don’t have an indoor training facility. The water in Jackson is safer to drink than the water at Bengals team headquarters. They drafted an alleged rapist two years ago and refuse to utter a word about it. For good measure, that guy also happens to suck at football. Mike Brown should be sent to a moon prison, where all the moon apes fling rocks at him and he screams PLEASE SOMEONE SAVE ME FROM THESE HORRIBLE MOON APES, but none of us back on Earth can hear his cries.
What has always sucked: None of this team’s success was by design. If Brown had had his way, they would have gone 6-11 for a million straight years while he slant-fracked natural gas from underneath every local children’s hospital. Instead, he lucked his way into Burrow and Chase, and now we all have to pretend like the Bengals know what they’re doing. There’s no chance that’s true. That was a fucking Powerball win of a season they just had, and then they lost the ticket in the laundry.
And you don’t want these fans to be happy, I promise you. Maybe you aren’t old enough to remember the Boomer Esiason Bengals, but I am. I hated them in the ’80s, and I hate them still. No grown man should ever go by the name Boomer. Sam Wyche had all of Tom Coughlin’s temper and none of his ability. And the Ickey Shuffle was 100 percent dork shit. DURRR WATCH ME STEP FROM SIDE TO SIDE DURRR. I’ve seen better dancing at a Montauk wedding.
The fans were even less likable. There are no worse hillbillies out there than Ohio hillbillies: walking around the tailgate lot in overalls and no shirt, dried chili stains in their chest hair, drinking an open beer they found sitting out behind a nearby high school. When these mutants drooled WHO DEY at the top of their lungs, 24/7, during the Esiason years, I wished I was as deaf as I now currently am. So last season represents the exact right amount of good fortune I’d like the Bengals to have. Anything past that and you open Kentuckydora’s Box. No thank you. Go back to your caves, people.
Ratto says: It has been more than 800 days since Mike Brown did something stupid, cheap, shortsided or vile. He drafted Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase in successive years and got to a Super Bowl. Somehow this will go bad in time because it’s Mike Brown and all, but for the moment he has achieved the pinnacle of ownership: wins without either public notice, or league investigations for workplace toxicity.
What might not suck: OK, Evan McPherson is both clutch and adorable. Please don’t give him the yips. I mean it.
HEAR IT FROM BENGALS FANS!
Every Bengals season feels Sisyphean, but this one was like if Sisyphus made it all the way to the top of the hill after decades of only making it maybe a quarter of the way up, only to have to watch the boulder roll all the way down the other side of the hill.
I am 39 years old. My first Bengals memory is a gut-wrenching loss in the Super Bowl. Now we have come full circle with my most recent Bengals memory being a gut-wrenching loss in the Super Bowl. Most of the 33 seasons between these losses were absolutely dreadful.
My weight and overall physical/mental health would suggest that I won’t live to see SB 89 when the Bengals lose by two to the London Bog Rolls. Who Dey!
Mike Brown thinks he bought himself another 31 years to win a playoff game.
Mike Brown being half-asleep while wearing this stupid farm hat at the Super Bowl was infuriating. IT’S THE BIGGEST FOOTBALL GAME OF THE YEAR AND THE WHOLE PLANET IS WATCHING. Can you not look like you’re in line to purchase a rake at a northern Kentucky Rural King? CHRIST.
Mike Brown was probably pissed he had to actually spend money to go to KC for the AFC Championship game. It looked for all the world like he would rather be back at home, clipping coupons out of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Zac Taylor lost a Super Bowl to a soup salesman.
Getting old means that you know exactly what’s going to happen when Tyler Boyd drops an easy third-down pass with six minutes left. The same thing that happened when Lewis Billups dropped that pass from Joe Montana. The same thing that happened when Pete Johnson couldn’t score from one yard out. The same thing that will happen the next time the Bengals make the Super Bowl, in 2055.
When the Bengals made it to the Super Bowl, I booked the most expensive vacation of my life to Los Angeles to attend the big game. At SoFi Stadium, I spent $60 on a raggy commemorative t-shirt and $25 on an atrocious personal pizza. I completely lost track of what I spent on beer. I was drunk on the prospect of football glory.
With six minutes left in the game, I said to my brother, without a hint of doubt or irony, “The Bengals are going to win the Super Bowl!” A few minutes later they did not, and a few minutes after that, a pickpocket stole my phone while I was leaving the stadium.
A few months later, I renewed my season tickets. If the universe had been sending me a message, it must’ve gone to my old phone.
Fuck me and fuck Zac Taylor with a 3rd & 1 handoff to Samaje Perine.
This team consistently breaks me and I needed a way to vent besides taking a sledgehammer to my windshield.
Anytime someone says the Bengals lost to the Jets, they need to include the part where their backup QB threw for 405 yards against us and had a 107.9 passer rating, thensealed the victory by catching a two point conversion. Part of my soul, and three of my TV screens, died that day.
Jalen Ramsey FELL DOWN while covering Ja’Marr Chase on the final Bengals’ offensive play in the Super Bowl. That was it. That was the Lombardi right fucking there. But since the Bengals refuse to fix their offensive line like the city of Cincinnati refuses to fix potholes, we had to watch the Rams’ defensive line do what everyone knew they would. Did the Bengals even play in the Super Bowl? Fuck me with a streetcar that nobody rides.
Ickey Woods ran for 1,525 yards in his entire career, and now has the body frame of someone who gets paid exclusively in cold cuts. This city WORSHIPS him. Fuck.
I was at a bar at the Banks after our division clinching victory against the Chiefs. A Bengals fan in the bathroom said, “I haven’t slept in 24 hours.” Without missing a beat, another Bengals fan at a urinal heard this, said, “Hang on,” and proceeded to pull out a loose Adderall pill from his pocket and tossed it to that dude. I’m pretty sure they’re both dead now.
When the rape investigation resurfaced, a concerning amount of Bengals Facebook came to Carman’s defense. I told my dad about the allegation and his immediate reaction was, “She just wants his money,” because apparently the key to striking it rich is telling police about a rape committed by a backup offensive lineman who for sure won’t get a second contract.
Fuck all of this. Fuck all of us. Paul Brown Stadium is boring. The tailgates are lit, tho.
I am a 30-year-old man, and last year I got to see my favorite NFL team win a playoff game for the first time in my entire life. I hosted a little Super Bowl watch party in Chicago, made Skyline chili dip and coneys (which are GOOD, fuck you), bought a shit-ton of Hudy and Burger Beer, and tried to maintain my, “it’s an honor just to be nominated” disposition.
But once the Bengals lost, I felt a new kind of pain that I’d literally never known before: the unbearable grief of getting SO CLOSE to finally winning it all, only to fall short. What if it takes another 30+ years to get back to the Super Bowl? What if the Bengals NEVER get back there? What if Tonya Harding hires Kimo von Oelhoffen to break Joe Burrow’s knees with a golf club, strangling a potential dynasty in its infancy? What if the Reds are relocate to Montreal before they can break their own historic playoff drought, and no Cincinnati sports fan ever knows joy again?
Honestly, none of that would surprise me. The history of Ohio sports fandom is long, but it bends towards sucking. At least I’ll always have that Wild Card game.
My family moved to Arizona from Cincinnati in 1996 at the urging of my allergist. Cincinnati’s weather spent most of my early life trying to kill me through debilitating asthma that routinely landed me in the hospital. Had we not moved, I probably wouldn’t have made it to my 21st birthday (I’m 38 now). I needed to be in a dry climate, away from the Midwest’s mold and humidity. The irony of moving to one of the least-sustainable places on earth isn’t lost on me.
The hell does that have to do with the Bengals? One random weeknight in the early 1990s, during one of my many asthma-induced hospitalizations, a group of players came to visit sick kids at Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Being a tiny, weak, sheltered child, their size scared the shit out of me. If memory serves, neither of my parents were present.
I didn’t show it at the time, but I never stopped appreciating a random group of players visiting a bunch of sick kids. The players weren’t assholes, either. But hell if I can remember who were any of the players that visited. Or what positions they played. Maybe it was all a dream and nothing of this sort ever happened? That feels oddly appropriate: Supporting an awful sports franchise because of something you thought might’ve happened, but really didn’t, over 30 years ago.
My third son was born this December. The first time we brought him to church was the day after the Bengals beat the Raiders to win their first playoff game in my lifetime. I had a Bengals coat on. As I walked through the church, people congratulated me, and I would go on and on about how amazed I was that the Bengals finally won a playoff game, and how I never thought this day would come, and how this year just felt special, blah blah blah. This happened at least three times before I realized they were congratulating me on the new baby, and not the sports team I am in no way affiliated with.
I am such a piece of shit.
Before the Bengals home game against the Ravens last year, as I do every before home contest, I tailgated with some friends who also have season tickets and sit right across from me in the south endzone of Paul Brown Stadium. I turned it up a notch on this day. I drank an ungodly amount of Fireball, plus numerous other shots. I guzzled about 10 cans of Bud Light. It is, without a doubt, the most drunk and high I have ever been in my life.
About 15 minutes before kickoff, I got to the front gate of the stadium. When I was getting ready to go through the metal detector, I dropped my wallet and then fell flat on my face right in front of the people running it and everyone who was standing in line. Miraculously, I got through it and scanned my ticket to get in. I didn’t know what the hell was going on in the world around me from that point until Tyler Boyd’s long catch and run touchdown in the second quarter. I think I tried to hug a guy to celebrate the play, I’m not sure. The next thing I know, security comes and escorts me out of the stadium, but I snuck back in through another gate. Within just a few minutes, security recognized my face and directed me back out again.
I proceeded to go to Yard House on the banks in Cincy, where I threw up all over myself at the bar. I was escorted out of there as well. I then drunkenly stumbled back to my car, fell asleep for about four hours, and had to find out what the final score was on my phone. It was the first time I had ever been kicked out of a sporting event or a restaurant.
I will definitely have to get that shitfaced again when we inevitably revert back to form this year and go 8-9 with less injury luck, have a much tougher schedule, and proceed to squander this unbelievably talented offensive team in true, agonizing Bungles fashion. You know which team we’re talking about here. You know last year will prove to be a fluke.
I feel stupid for allowing myself to have hope in this cursed franchise. They won just enough close games to sucker me into thinking they’d give me the satisfaction of finally supporting a winning team. Then they pulled the rug out from under me and let me with a numb feeling that’ll probably last for the rest of this decade. Fucking hell. Imagine losing a Super Bowl to goofy Matt Stafford.
The worst part is that the little taste of success that this franchise got in 2021 will fuel the egos of the dumbasses in Cincy’s front office and ensure that they’ll never change. Why would we buy an indoor practice facility? We go to a Super Bowl without one! Why would we get a GM? I’m Mike Brown and I’m the genius who got us to a Super Bowl after so many years of trying!
Don’t even get me started on Zac Taylor. We’ll be stuck with that guy for the next 45 years no matter what.
Fuck Mike Brown with a Skyline cheese coney inside of a Graeter’s waffle cone.
Our dog died back in November. I got him from the shelter in Athens, Burrow’s hometown. After his death, my wife and I mourned by spending money. We finally had the time to stay somewhere on the weekend, or to go to a concert three hours away without having to worry about a sitter. I also treated myself to my first live Bengals game.
We went to the Chargers blowout. The woman sitting in front of us had a wrist tattoo of Snoopy getting his dick sucked by Woodstock. Outside there was a vendor selling, Let’s Go Brandon hoodies in the Bengals color scheme (and had quite a line). Based on what I saw, I’d estimate the Bengals might have the highest contingency of Juggalos in their fanbase outside of Detroit.
I had started to get over Toby’s death around the time that the Bengals made their playoff run, but Burrow and him were intrinsically linked in my mind: a memory of my favorite city and my best friend combined with my favorite sports team. I watched every playoff game from the couch he would have normally been curled up beside me on. What I didn’t expect was for the rest of the country to start cheering for the Bengals, too. I can’t really explain why, but it felt like the rest of the country was patting old Toby on the head and letting him know he was a good boy from beyond the grave.
Then they lost the fucking game. They let me down, let my dead dog down, let the shittier half of Ohio down, and, as if they were fulfilling some ultimate destiny, now let the entire country down.
Submissions for the Defector NFL previews are closed. Next up: Los Angeles Rams.