Reasons to be excited: All season, players, coaches and team executives have commented about how different 2015 felt from past years. It's partly due to team president Mike Brown's insistence this past February that the Bengals veer from the way they previously approached offseasons, and partly due to the changes the Bengals made to their weekly preparation. A push from coaches for more leadership from Andy Dalton got the quarterback playing better than he has throughout his career, too. While uncertainty surrounds Dalton's recovery from a thumb injury, Bengals fans have to be encouraged by the fact that, otherwise, this is perhaps the most complete team in franchise history. The Bengals have one of the best offensive lines in the league and one of the best defensive fronts, too. With a turnover margin that ranks among the NFL's top five teams, they've certainly been good at creating turnovers defensively. The ability to force turnovers could be a key to postseason success. So could experience. The fact that the Bengals have been in the playoffs the past four seasons shouldn't be dismissed.
Reasons to be concerned: Of course, with the Bengals, playoff experience is a double-edged sword. While having it can be good for a team that clearly knows how to go through the routine of preparing for a playoff game, the fact is those routines haven't paid off in the past six playoff trips the team has had -- all of which have come under head coach Marvin Lewis. Since the 2005 season, the Bengals have been to six wild-card-round playoff games, and they've lost each one. Naturally, that history has Who Dey Nation anxious about what these playoffs might hold. There's also the concern over Dalton's recovery and whether he will be healthy enough to play within the first week or two of the postseason. Although AJ McCarron has been just good enough in the three-plus games Dalton has missed, the overall offense has lacked the more consistent rhythm it had with Dalton in charge. The likelihood that Cincinnati hosts Pittsburgh in the first round is concerning, too.
How far they can go? Each offseason, each preseason, each midseason and, yes, each postseason since 2011, this has been the chief issue concerning the Bengals: Just how far can they last in the playoffs? Recent history has proved they don't have much staying power once the calendar flips to January. It's been since 1990 -- a year more than a dozen current Bengals weren't yet alive to see -- that Cincinnati won a playoff game. But forget history. As we mentioned above, there is a real belief that there's something different about this team. As long as the Bengals approach their opening-round game the same way they did this year's first eight regular-season games, and as long as they don't allow the emotions of a possible matchup with the Steelers to get to them in Round 1, there's every reason to believe this finally will be the year the Bengals get rid of their ugly playoff demons.