Teams That Could Make a Bengals-like Leap in 2022

Stoney Keeley takes a way-too-early look at teams with long odds to win their conference in 2022 that could make a surprising run.

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The Cincinnati Bengals went on one of the more improbable runs to a Super Bowl in recent memory. No one was talking about them as a credible threat in the AFC before the playoffs started. Hell, I thought they’d be bounced in the first round. And yet, there they were…representing the AFC in Super Bowl LVI. There were several things that made this team special – the defensive front showed up, Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase caught lightning in a bottle down the stretch, and despite having veritable tackling dummies along the offensive line that had Burrow constantly fighting for his life, they somehow made it work. And, you can tune this part out Bengals fans, but it certainly didn’t hurt to have a little bit of luck on your side – Derek Carr throwing a pick on the final play of the game, Ryan Tannehill throwing three picks, Patrick Mahomes forgetting how to play football at halftime of the AFC Championship. The Bengals were built in a way that sacrificed that protection in order to stockpile talent around Burrow, and they did a stellar job of getting the right free agents in on defense. Make no mistake about it – they put themselves in position to capitalize on these things during the playoffs.

We always talk about parity in the NFL, and there’s no better example of that parity than your reigning and defending AFC Champions. They went from NFL laughingstock to Super Bowl participant in a matter of two seasons. They were among the worst teams in the league over the course of the last two seasons, and yet, it all came together for a run for the ages. It should be giving executives, coaches, and players alike all across the league hope that they can do it too with just a few good decisions.

So, since it’s now officially the offseason and we don’t have any actual games to break down any longer, I figured I’d take the opportunity to look at a few franchises that I think are only a few good transactions away from putting themselves in a position to go on a run and make the leap the 2021 Bengals did.

Again, you have to remember – the Bengals were terrible prior to the 2021 season. I’m not including teams like the Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, or Denver Broncos here because those teams looked pretty decent at times this year. It can’t be a “Bengals-like” leap unless we’re talking about the bottom of the barrel poverty NFL franchises.

*Detroit Lions – Not only do I think the Lions could take a massive leap in 2022 with a good offseason, I think it’s actually likely that the Lions take a massive leap in 2022 with a good offseason. They had their fair share of puzzlingly bad losses in 2021, but five of their losses came down to four or fewer points, and the team fought hard week in and week out. That’s a testament to what it’s like to play for Dan Campbell. All the kneecap-biting stuff conjured up jokes for days, but it turned out that this team had a lot of heart. And, try to hold your laughter, but Jared Goff actually played well and looked like the guy down the stretch. They need an influx of talent at the skill positions (on offense and defense), but with the right moves, this team could be a surprise in 2022. I also think the NFC North is going to be wide open next season with two new head coaches (Minnesota and Chicago), and a potential Rodgers-less Packers.

*Jacksonville Jaguars – I know this one won’t be popular among the Titans fans who come to SoBros Network to read the Titans coverage, but I absolutely love the Doug Pederson hire. Trevor Lawrence had a rough rookie season, but he showed some flashes, and had to play without some of his best play-making options. There’s a ton of talent on defense. If Pederson can come in and add a few foundational pieces while putting together the pieces that are already there, the Jags could be a tough out next season.

*New York Giants – I can’t believe I’m saying this. I feel like I low key say this in some form or fashion before the start of every season and no one ever calls me on it – “the Giants could be better than people think” – but I absolutely love the hiring of Brian Daboll. That Bills coaching staff has been one of the best in the league for several years now, and I love the way Daboll called that offense. They have needs across the board, and a big time question mark at quarterback, but the defense is there in a winnable division, to keep this team competitive next season if they can just put together a halfway decent offensive line on the other side of the ball.

Stoney Keeley is the Editor in Chief of The SoBros Network, and a Dogs Playing Poker on velvet connoisseur. He is a strong supporter of Team GSD, #BeBetter, and ‘Minds right, asses tight.’ “Big Natural” covers the Tennessee Titans, Nashville, Yankee Candle, and a whole wealth of nonsense. Follow on Twitter @StoneyKeeley

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