Playoff heartbreak and Bengals fandom has gone hand-in-hand for as long as the team has been in existence. Time after time, fans have gotten their hopes up, were dragged to the precipice of euphoria, only to be slapped in the face by disaster. Cincinnati Bengals playoff losses came to be expected, an inevitability.
“Montana! Touchdown! John Taylor!”
The Bengals 1988 season ended with a Super Bowl match-up with the San Francisco 49ers. That was really the start of it. Stanley Wilson got caught with cocaine before the game. Then, early on, Tim Krumrie, one of the defensive leaders, broke his ankle. Cornerback Lewis Billups dropped an interception in the fourth quarter, and then Joe Montana and John Taylor ripped out the hearts of every Cincinnatian.
There was no reason to think the Bengals blowout win over the Houston Oilers would be their last playoff victory for three decades when it happened. They waltzed over their divisional rival, then lost to the Raiders. In that game, running back Bo Jackson’s career was ended on a seemingly innocuous tackle. Cincinnati’s season ended and the “Curse of Bo Jackson” began.
“Carson Palmer is down!”
Don’t try to tell Bengals fans that they wouldn’t have beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers in January of 2006 if Carson Palmer didn’t have his knee shredded five minutes into the game. The hit from Kimo von Oelhoffen basically ended the game, and really, Palmer never was the same. Palmer led the Bengals to another playoff appearance a few seasons later, but the Jets handled them and the streak of playoff losses continued.
The 2011 NFL Draft re-vamped the team and led to immediate returns. The combination of quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver AJ Green led them back to the playoffs in 2011, but again and again, they couldn’t get over the hump. The Texans beat them twice. The Chargers got them in the 2014 playoffs. Then it was the Colts. The run culminated in January of 2016 against the hated Steelers.
There was just 1:36 seconds left on the clock, with Cincinnati leading by a single point when Vontaze Burfict intercepted Ben Roethlisberger near the 25 yard line of the Steelers. Bengals fandom erupted. This was it. Nearly 25 years of waiting was over. Then, the most unlikeliest of sequences in NFL playoff history unfolded.
“Here’s Hill. Ball is out!”
A play later, all of Cincinnati had the wind sucked from them. Running back Jeremy Hill was stripped of the ball and the Steelers were given new life. A first down would likely have ended it, but the curse had struck again. Bengals fans could only watch, knowing how it was going to end. It was inevitable.
With less than 20 seconds to go, Roethlisberger targeted receiver Antonio Brown over the middle. The throw fell incomplete, but Vontaze Burfict, moments ago a hero, became the villain. He was flagged for an illegal hit on Brown, which set up a long field goal attempt. Then, cornerback Adam Jones got a flag of his own, resulting in an easy game winner for Chris Boswell.
The silence resulting from the shocking conclusion could be felt across the entire state. To make matters worse, fans would have to think about the ending to this one for six years. That’s how long it would take to get another playoff shot.
The 2021 version of the Bengals felt different. Quarterback Joe Burrow and his “Baby Bengals” had the swagger of a team used to winning playoff games. When the playoff schedule was finalized, it was, inevitably, the Las Vegas Raiders standing on the opposite sideline. The Bengals would get a chance to exorcise their demons against the team that started the playoff losing streak 31 years prior.
“The season comes down to this. It is Carr, endzone. Intercepted! Germaine Pratt!”
On Saturday, January 15th, 2022, the Cincinnati Bengals rewarded all of the fans who stood by them through 31 years of heartbreak. Like Andy Dufresne, standing in the rain after escaping Shawshank State Penitentiary, Bengals fans felt the years of defeats wash away by tears of joy.
The Bengals move on in the playoffs, led by a second year quarterback who seemingly has icewater in his veins. He has the poise of a veteran and is surrounded by guys too young to know they’re supposed to lose in round one. They didn’t get the notice that Cincinnati folds in the playoffs.
“For the first time in 31 years, Cincinnati, your Bengals have won a playoff game!”
The crowd at Paul Brown Stadium was deafening. Fans in attendance and at home were crying, screaming, drinking, or some combination of the three. A playoff victory three decades in the making had finally happened. After the game, Burrow looked like it was no big deal. He’s on to next week.
The fans believe in Burrow, though. They’ve believed in him since before he was drafted. There was never any doubt he was going to end the playoff drought. Cincinnati Bengals playoff wins were coming. It was inevitable.
On Monday night, Georgia’s national championship win wrapped up the 2021 college football season. This means that it is officially 2022 NFL Draft season. This is my opening mock draft of the year and will probably change a great deal before the real thing happens.
There are declarations still to come, and potentially some guys who will not declare. The NFL Draft order will also change as the playoffs play out. Pro Football Focus’ draft order and other features were utilized for this mock draft.
2022 NFL Mock Draft 1.0 (Picks 1-10)
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Evan Neal, Offensive Line – Alabama
The Jaguars invested in what they hope will be their franchise quarterback last year. Now it’s time to protect him. Neal is the best offensive lineman in the class and maybe the best player overall. He’s enormous but moves gracefully and rarely gets beaten.
2. Detroit Lions: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge – Oregon
Several positions need an upgrade in Detroit, so taking the best available player is the call. Another pass rusher has been getting the love lately, but Thibodeaux is my top edge rusher. He’s explosive, corners quickly, and closes in a blink.
Some have Hutchinson as the top player overall in this draft, so getting him at #3 is good value. He rushes the passer with a nice set of moves, including a terrific bull rush. Of course, there’s no such thing as a can’t miss player, but he’s close.
4. New York Jets: Derek Stingley Jr, Cornerback – LSU
Even though some other CB’s have raised their stock this season, Stingley is still the top prospect at the position. He has the size, quickness, and technique NFL teams covet, and the Jets’ terrible secondary needs the help.
5. New York Giants: Kyle Hamilton, Safety – Notre Dame
Again, a team with many needs goes with the best player on the board. Safeties don’t get picked in the top spot, but Hamilton is good enough to deserve it. His combination of size, speed, and instincts is unmatched.
6. Carolina Panthers: Matt Corral, Quarterback – Ole Miss
This year’s QB class is weaker than usual, and I have just one passer with a first-round grade. The Sam Darnold experiment failed, and the Panthers go ahead and grab their guy. Corral has a big arm and can use his legs when necessary.
7. New York Giants: Charles Cross, Offensive Line – Mississippi State
I don’t know if the new head coach will stick with Daniel Jones at QB. However, whoever is under center will need more protection than the Giants have provided. Cross is a terrific pass blocker and upgrades the line immediately.
8. Atlanta Falcons: David Ojabo, Edge – Michigan
The other Michigan pass rusher is also pretty good. The Falcons defense badly needs to create more pressure, and Ojabo knows how to bring it. He explodes off the line and has a solid set of moves in his toolbox, including a lethal spin move.
The Broncos need a QB, but it would be a reach here. So instead, they add speed to the second level of the defense. The Butkus Award winner flies to the ball in the run game and has the tools to be a good coverage linebacker in the NFL as well.
10. New York Jets: Jermaine Johnson, Edge – Florida St.
None of the edge rushers in this class bring more violence in their hands than Johnson. When he comes in contact with a blocker, he goes on the offensive with shoves, rips, and punches to disengage from block attempts. He’s also relentless in pursuit of the ball.
2022 NFL Mock Draft 1.0 (Picks 11-20)
11. Washington Football Team: Treylon Burks, WR – Arkansas
The nameless Washington team has a star in Terry McLaurin but needs a QB. Like Denver, it’s too early here, so adding another stud receiver is the next best thing. Burks is a contested-catch machine with terrific hands and makes plays after the catch.
12. Minnesota Vikings: George Karlaftis, Edge – Purdue
It’s unknown at this time who will be rushing the passer for the Vikings in 2022. This year would be an excellent draft class to address that. Karlaftis uses strength and technique to get the passer. He is another high motor guy as well.
13. Cleveland Browns: Drake London, WR – USC
The Browns are a team in desperate need of help at receiver. Luckily this draft has some elite talent available, including London. The USC standout, another contested-catch artist, is an instant upgrade for a Browns team with high expectations.
14. Baltimore Ravens: Kenyon Green, Offensive Line – Texas A&M
An offense built entirely around the run game needs effective linemen. So, the Ravens use this pick to draft the best available big man. Green is a versatile blocker who can line up anywhere and undoubtedly aid the Baltimore run game.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Andrew Booth Jr, Cornerback – Clemson
With three picks in the first round, the Eagles can upgrade their defense in a big way. They can start by selecting the top available cornerback after Derek Stingley. Booth is a tremendous athlete with A+ instincts. In addition, he has good ball skills and is a willing tackler.
16. Philadelphia Eagles: Devin Lloyd, Linebacker – Utah
More help for the defense is on the way with the second of back-to-back picks. This time, they add a linebacker to help their run defense. He excels in locating the ball and flying downhill to make the stop.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Ahmad Gardner, Cornerback – Cincinnati
Adding some help to the defense seems like a given here. However, the value is at CB because of how things have played out. Gardner has excellent length and good speed to go with solid ball skills.
18. New Orleans Saints: Garrett Wilson, Wide Receiver – Ohio St.
The Saints are a mess. The offense needs a lot of help for whoever the QB winds up being, so adding a weapon makes sense. Wilson is a dynamic pass-catcher who can make plays down the field or take a short pass to the house.
19. Philadelphia Eagles: Drake Jackson, Edge – USC
They add to the pass rush here after adding defenders to the linebacking unit and secondary with their first picks. Jackson relies on natural gifts to get pressure and needs development, but his ceiling is sky-high.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ikem Ekwonu, Offensive Line – North Carolina St.
The Steelers have ignored the OL for too long, and it has shown this season. They address it here. Ekwonu is a nasty run blocker who may ultimately be a guard, but the Steelers need both guards and tackles anyway.
21. New England Patriots: Kaiir Elam, Cornerback – Florida
Elam is another long cornerback in this draft that projects to go early on. The Patriots may have a big hole there in 2022, so adding one makes sense. In addition, he’s a more physical defender than the other corners in this draft.
22. Miami Dolphins: Bernhard Raimann, Offensive Line – Central Michigan
The Dolphins have tried to address the line in the past but made poor choices. Raimann is technically sound and moves well. The biggest question will be about the level of competition that he’s faced.
23 Las Vegas Raiders: Tyler Linderbaum, Offensive Line – Iowa
Talent-wise, Linderbaum is a top 10 player in the draft. However, positional value and his size could drop him down boards. He’s stronger than he appears, moves very well, and plays with near-perfect technique.
24. Arizona Cardinals: Trent McDuffie, Cornerback – Washington
The Cardinals have had a great season, but going into 2022 could strengthen the secondary. McDuffie is a versatile corner who has the athleticism to play outside or inside. He is also a good tackler in run defense.
25. Cincinnati Bengals: DeMarvin Leal, Defensive Line – Texas A&M
Trey Hendrickson has been fantastic rushing the passer for the Bengals. However, they aren’t getting consistent interior pressure. Leal has the speed and strength to provide something missing since Geno Atkins left.
26. Buffalo Bills: Darian Kinnard, Offensive Line – Kentucky
There are a couple of solid options here. However, strengthening the OL is always intelligent. Kinnard should be able to play both tackle and guard in the NFL. He’s a mauler in the run game, and he anchors well as a pass blocker.
27. Detroit Lions: Malik Willis, Quarterback – Liberty
Jared Goff doesn’t seem like the long-term answer under center in Detroit. Willis likely will need some time to develop. He has a big arm and plenty of athletic gifts to go with it. Sitting behind Goff could be a pleasant situation for him.
28. Dallas Cowboys: Jaquan Brisker, Safety – Penn St.
The Cowboys have assembled an incredible roster capable of a Super Bowl run. The secondary has been a weakness, though. Brisker is an athletic specimen who can make plays on the ball in both coverage and run support.
29. Kansas City Chiefs: Chris Olave, Wide Receiver – Ohio St.
Despite having an offense that boasts one of the league’s best receivers and tight ends, the Chiefs could use an upgrade at WR. Olave is a fantastic route runner who manages to seemingly always be open.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Kyler Gordon, Cornerback – Washington
A running back is on the table here, but CB is more important to address. Gordon is yet another gifted Washington defensive back. He can play inside or outside and could be a star in Tampa.
31. Tennessee Titans: Jahan Dotson, Wide Receiver – Penn St.
The Titans added Julio Jones, but he hasn’t provided a lot. Dotson would give the team a consistent downfield threat that would open up the offense. In addition, he brings a quickness that they are currently missing.
32. Green Bay Packers: George Pickens, Wide Receiver – Georgia
The Packers have avoided drafting receivers early for a while now. This year, though, they break the cycle. Their entire WR room enters free agency. Pickens might have been the top WR in the draft pre-injury, but he looked back in the Playoff.
These words, and many more laudatory terms, have been used to describe Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow over the past year or so. From the moment the team locked up the number one pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the former LSU great has been the favorite topic of conversation among fans in the Queen City. Anyone doubting that can just visit social media for a few moments and see that he has become the face of Cincinnati sports (sorry Nick Castellanos). He is Mr Everything, but is that fair?
Burrow, as everyone knows, dominated in his final season at LSU, setting records along the way. He won the Heisman and a National Championship in 2019, launching himself from “later-round potential” to the first overall pick of the draft. He had the greatest season for a quarterback in college football history, and Bengals fans were ecstatic. Not only were they getting a great player, but he was an Ohio kid, having went to high school in Athens. He was also a former Ohio State Buckeye before transferring to LSU.
The Bengals, for their part, were starting over after nearly a decade with Andy Dalton as their starter. Always solid, never spectacular, Dalton was a popular player, even if he had his detractors. Failures in big games led to even more frustration from long-suffering fans who desperately wanted to get their first playoff win since the early 1990s. Enter Joe Burrow.
Bengals fans had no qualms about selecting Burrow, but he wasn’t as universally praised as some former top picks. Questions, primarily about his arm strength, were out there, though most were willing to overlook them because the positives vastly out-weighed the negatives.
Burrow’s rookie season showed both sides of the coin. His raw numbers were terrific, especially for a rookie passer starting right away without a true offseason. He completed 65% of his passes for nearly 2,700 yards, he had 13 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions, and he proved to be a good runner with the ball as well. He displayed the confidence and accuracy that were his trademark in college. The arm issues showed up as well though. Burrow was terrible on downfield throws, and struggled on passes over 20 yards. His yards per attempt numbers were among the league’s worst. He also took a lot of sacks. The Bengals offensive line was atrocious, but Burrow also held onto the ball too long at times and tried to do too much at others. Eventually, and unfortunately, disaster struck and a sack ended Burrow’s rookie year. His knee was seriously injured and a city was stunned.
After successful surgery and a speedy recovery, Burrow looks to be on track for a fully healthy second season. Fans are excited, as they should be. However, should they temper their expectations for this year and beyond?
As far as 2021 is concerned, it’s fair to be cautious. The knee injury Burrow suffered was devastating and there’s no guarantee he won’t have lingering issues. Until he plays on it, there’s know way to know not only where he stands physically, but mentally. Toughness is a way of life for the young QB though, so it will surprise nobody if he picks up where he left off.
For the long-term, well, telling fans to slow down might be impossible. That cat is out of the bag. The genii can’t be put back in the bottle. There are clear areas where Burrow needs to be better. It’s a passing league and if he can’t improve on his deep ball, his career ceiling is limited. A better offensive line will help, and the addition of former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase certainly doesn’t hurt.
Is the hype for Joe Burrow unfair? Probably. He’s one year into his career, and a shortened one at that. If you ask fans, though. He showed enough. There is no convincing them that he won’t be an MVP and eventual Super Bowl winner. The hype is real. Is it a sure-thing that he will be as great as everyone thinks? Nothing is a sure-thing, but let’s allow Bengals star safety Jessie Bates have the last word on the matter.