The Cincinnati Bengals used to be the Houston Texans’ postseason tune-up game.
From 2011-12, the Texans hosted the Bengals in the AFC wild-cards and took care of business each time. To close out the 2010s, Houston won four playoff games while the Bengals still hadn’t won a postseason game since 1990.
Things changed in 2021, and now it appears the Bengals are going to get their wild-card wins when they get to the playoffs. Cincinnati held off the Baltimore Ravens 24-17 Sunday night at Paycor Stadium to advance to the AFC divisional round.
Here are four lessons the Texans can learn from how the Bengals were able to go from chumps to champs in such a short amount of time.
Build with veterans
The Texans have had a bevy of veterans on short-term deals come through NRG Stadium since general manager Nick Caserio took over in Jan. 2021, but they have been more “hold the fort guys,” as Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells used to say. They have been merely transitionary pieces.
Over the past couple years, the Bengals invested in former Texans defensive tackles D.J. Reader, B.J. Hil, defensive end Trey Hendrickson, albeit he didn’t play. They added former first-round cornerback Eli Apple and signed former Saints safety Vonn Bell. Cincinnati was also not afraid to pay their guys in defensive end Sam Hubbard and safety Jessie Bates.
Houston needs to start looking for cornerstones, not just more bricks in the wall.
Get a quarterback
It would have been a franchise-ending event if the Bengals were daft enough to have the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft and not take Joe Burrow. The pick was virtually made for them as soon as the 2019 season ended.
Nevertheless the Bengals got their guy to help move on from Andy Dalton. The talent was evident in Burrow’s rookie season, which was cut short due to an ACL tear.
Although the pick was easy, Cincinnati did their homework to ensure Burrow could handle the pressure. The Texans also need to be conscientious with who they want at No. 2 overall, no matter the decision between Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, or someone else.
Get someone the QB can throw to
It was easy for Cincinnati. They finished with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, so, they got Burrow’s No. 1 target from LSU. Nevertheless the passing game exploded for the Bengals and it looks to be an elite duo in the future, if not already.
At No. 2 overall in the 2023 draft, Houston can grab their future franchise quarterback, and at No. 12 overall they can find a wideout who can develop chemistry immediately with his new field general.
Zac Taylor is a genius now, but there were legitimate concerns he wouldn’t make it to 2021. The Bengals were an atrocious 2-14 in his first season, down from 6-10 in the last year with Marvin Lewis. Cincinnati followed up with a 4-11-1 finish. Even with Joe Burrow healthy, the Bengals had a 2-7-1 record.
The Bengals won the AFC North in 2021, stacked three playoff wins, and were a drive away from either tying the Los Angeles Rams or beating them in Super Bowl LVI.
In his introductory presser last February, former coach Lovie Smith used the example of the Bengals as a team that turned it around quickly. Cincinnati may not even be in their position today if they had gotten impatient with Taylor.