Pressure point: Bengals

May, 16, 2012
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Examining who faces the most challenging season for the Cincinnati Bengals and why.

It would be easy to say Marvin Lewis faces a pivotal season because the Bengals coach is in the final year of a two-year extension. But, by all accounts, owner Mike Brown has approached Lewis a handful of times about a new deal, and it's Lewis who hasn't found time for a sitdown.

While it looks like there is no fear with job security, there is still a great amount of pressure on Lewis to take the Bengals to the next level. In his nine years as Bengals coach, Lewis has yet to win a playoff game or guide the team to consecutive winning seasons. If the Bengals want to elevate themselves to the ranks of the Steelers and the Ravens, Lewis has to get the Bengals to make noise in the postseason. During Lewis' tenure in Cincinnati, he has watched the Steelers win two Super Bowls and the Ravens reach the AFC Championship Game twice.

There's no question that Lewis is a good coach. He's done what others have failed to do in Cincinnati. Lewis has become the franchise's winningest coach, holding the team together through the death of a player (wide receiver Chris Henry), an extended holdout by his franchise quarterback (Carson Palmer) and numerous arrests. But Lewis' track record is his team wins when expectations are low but disappoints when the anticipation is high. And the buzz has never been higher in recent years than the 2012 season.

The Bengals surprisingly went to the playoffs last season and improved in most areas this offseason. Cincinnati upgraded at running back (BenJarvus Green-Ellis), guard (Travelle Wharton and Kevin Zeitler) and cornerback (Dre Kirkpatrick, Terence Newman and Jason Allen). The Bengals' top two offensive players from a year ago, quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green, are having their first full offseason with the team after last year's lockout.

What hangs over the franchise is the NFL's longest playoff win drought (21 seasons). It's up to Lewis to get this team to end that.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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