While I was manning the Twitter helm at @ThisGivenSunday yesterday afternoon, during the Houston-Cincinnati playoff matchup, I couldn't help but draw parallels between the 2011 Bengals and the 2010 Rams. And that makes me wonder if they might be heading down a similar path of disappointment next season, like the 2011 Rams did.
Why would I want to rain on the Bengals' parade ilke this? Not out of hate or spite, I assure you. Andy Dalton impressed the hell out of me in the first half, playing with composure and accuracy while the Houston Texans' home crowd was busy losing their minds at their first home playoff game in 18 years. AJ Green is the real deal, and defensive lineman Geno Atkins is a force to be reckoned with.
But that said, there are some disturbing parallels between the Bengals' rise this season and the Rams' rise of 2010:
- An easy schedule that gets a lot harder next season.
- An offensive coordinator (Jay Gruden) getting a lot of pub as a possible head coaching candidate.
- An offensive system predicated on an aging running back (Cedric Benson just turned 29).
- A defense that's strong up front but particularly weak in the secondary.
- A defensive-minded head coach (Marvin Lewis) who struggles badly in game-management situations.
A nugget on the Bengals' 9-7 season: all nine wins came against teams that failed to make the playoffs. All seven losses came against teams that did make the playoffs. Eerily reminiscent of the Rams' inability to beat better teams, even in their resurgent season.
While everyone was focused on the Rams' injury madness and their at-times inexplicable coaching decisions, the much tougher schedule remains the most obvious factor in their downfall from last year to this. We just assumed that they would be ready to play with the big boys, and we were wrong.
And after rotating through the two easiest divisions in football -- the NFC West and AFC South -- the Bengals now get matched up against the highly competitive NFC East and AFC West in 2012. They have only four away games against teams with losing records in 2011, and of course they have to compete against the toughest division opponents in football in Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
With that in mind, Mike Brown should do everything in his power to make sure that Jay Gruden sticks around. Because as any Rams fan can tell you, the nightmare begins with that loss of offensive continuity.