This was originally published in The Athletic...
The Bengals will begin training camp this week at Paul Brown Stadium, which means that we’ll get to renew the tradition of making fun of Marvin Lewis’s latest camp T-shirt slogan—though I don’t know that anything will top last year’s “Run on your own gas” mantra—and thankfully, finish the process of moving on from the misery of last year’s 7-9 campaign that really wasn’t even as good as the mediocre record indicates.
I have mixed feelings about this season, in part because it’s just hard for me to conjure up much excitement for the 16th season of Lewis’s never-ending quest to win that elusive playoff game, but also in part because as disheartening as last season was, the Bengals were bad but not that bad. With an established core that’s got a nice combo of old and young, some turnover on what felt like a stale coaching staff, and residency in the weaker of the NFL’s two conferences, it’s not far-fetched to believe that 2018 could mark a return to the postseason.
The problem is that the team’s ceiling seems pretty low. Maybe it’s a byproduct of more than two-and-a half decades of no postseason advancement, but simply getting back to the playoffs feels like the best-case scenario for the current iteration of the Bengals. And as preseason prognostications pour in, you’ll find more people wondering if the move-making Browns will catch up to them in the AFC North than those predicting the Bengals will dethrone the Steelers.
The floor, however, seems pretty high. The Bengals might not be very good this season, but they probably won’t be very bad either. There’s enough talent to remain marginally competitive, even if the roster hasn’t seen massive, significant upgrades. And as much as the coach/quarterback combo has earned our skepticism, Lewis and Andy Dalton can probably be counted on to at least keep the team kinda, sorta afloat.
So yeah, probably like many, I think the Bengals head toward the season stuck in the NFL’s crowded middle, one of many indistinguishable teams that are one or two developments away from being better than decent, yet one or two away from spending the season bathed in irrelevance. As with most teams they’re lumped in with, the Bengals will start preparing for their season with questions looming over the beginning of training camp. As camp begins this week, here’s what I’m asking.
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