The Cincinnati Bengals were inaugurated in 1968 into the AFL, brought into the league by a then-familiar face to football fans across the nation.
Paul Brown had been shockingly fired by Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell in 1963, but was back in the league five years later as he established the Bengals franchise. Brown was able to negotiate a two-sport stadium for his new football team and the Cincinnati Reds, who had been playing at Crosley Field, built in 1912. Brown chose the moniker Bengals, naming the team after an unrelated Cincinnati football club that played from 1937-1941, and Cincinnati’s professional football team was born.
The team chose an orange-and-black color scheme, with an orange helmet and the word “Bengals” written in capital letters across the dome, reminiscent of Brown’s old team, Cleveland. They would change to an orange-and-black striped helmet in 1981, the team’s style until this day.
It would not have been a good idea to bet on the Cincinnati Bengals for the first few years of existence. However, the Hall-of-Fame coach would build a winner by drafting C Bob Johnson with his first-ever draft pick. Johnson would go on to have a twelve-year career in Cincinnati, wearing the only number the team would retire in its fifty-plus years.
Sure enough, Brown’s efforts meant the Cincinnati Bengals odds of winning a title were higher than most. He won a division title in his third season at the helm, winning the inaugural Central Division after the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. They would be shut out, however, by Johnny Unitas’s Colts in the divisional round. Brown led the Bengals back to the playoffs in 1973 and 1975 with new quarterback Ken Anderson, but they would be dismissed by Don Shula’s Dolphins and John Madden’s Raiders, respectively. Although, the Cincinnati Bengals odds of winning either game were slim – they were large underdogs in both.
1975 would be Brown’s last year as coach, and the team would fail to reach the playoffs for the rest of the decade. However, in 1980, Green Bay Packer Hall-of-Famer Forrest Gregg was tapped to lead the team, and a year later he coached the team to its first Super Bowl appearance, with Anderson as league MVP and All-Pro rookie WR Cris Collinsworth leading the offense. Despite being only a 1-point underdog, the team fell behind to Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers early. Anderson brought the team back from a 20-0 halftime deficit, but the hill was too high to climb. A bet on the Cincinnati Bengals would not have paid, as the team lost 26-21.
Gregg left the team to coach his Green Bay Packers the year after, and Sam Wyche was tasked with turning over an aging team, which he did well. He replaced Anderson with ’84 second-rounder Boomer Esaison. While the results were mixed – the team finished second in the Central Division for three years in a row – in 1988 the Bengals broke through with the #1 offense in the league. A bet on the Cincinnati Bengals to win the AFC would’ve finally paid, as the team defeated the Seattle Seahawks and the Buffalo Bills en route to Super Bowl XXIII. Despite being six-point underdogs, the Bengals led for much of the game, until two Joe Montana TD passes in the fourth quarter sealed the Bengals’ second loss to the 49ers in as many Super Bowls.
The Cincinnati Bengals odds to sustain success seemed high, but the team never fully realized its potential. Wyche won one more division title in 1990, but lost a close contest to Art Shell’s Oakland Raiders in the divisional round. A bet on the Cincinnati Bengals would’ve been disastrous in 1992, when the team finished 3-13,. Wyche was relieved of his duties, Esiason was traded to the Jets a year later, and Cincinnati unofficially ushered in a rebuild that would take over a decade. The Cincinnati Bengals odds to win the Super Bowl dwindled every year, and they wouldn’t post another winning record until 2005. Essentially the most exciting thing to happen to the team was the christening of a new venue, aptly named Paul Brown Stadium after the team’s founder.
Soon after the stadium was built, the franchise planted building blocks for success when they hired Marvin Lewis as its head coach in 2003. Lewis led a previously 2-14 team to an 8-8 record in his first two seasons, drafting QB Carson Palmer 1st overall in 2003. Lewis would go on to coach the team for sixteen season and is easily the greatest Bengals head coach not named Paul Brown. Palmer, while carving out a nice career, wouldn’t fully live up to his #1 pick status, as he would guide the team to only two division titles. Unfortunately, as the team was just tasting success, Palmer was injured early in his first ever career playoff game, when Steelers DL Kimo von Oelhoffen rolled up on his knee. A bet on the Cincinnati Bengals in that game would’ve been ill-advised, as the eventual champion Steelers would defeat them by two touchdowns.
After Palmer semi-retired in 2011 (and then was subsequently traded to Oakland), the Bengals drafted Andy Dalton in the second round. Even though the Cincinnati Bengals odds of succeeding with Dalton were slim, he beat the odds and led the team to five straight playoff appearances. A bet on the Cincinnati Bengals to advance, however, would not have been smart, as the team lost five straight wildcard games, the toughest being a 18-16 loss to Pittsburgh in 2015 after several personal fouls gifted the Steelers enough field position to attempt the game-winning field goal. The Bengals have not made the playoffs since.
Recently, though, the Cincinnati Bengals odds for a return to prominence are high, with #1 overall pick Joe Burrow now calling the signals for the team. Despite the Browns, Steelers, and Ravens all featuring strong squads, the time is now for the Bengals to reclaim their spot as a contender for the AFC crown.