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5 best Cincinnati Bengals teams of all-time

While the Cincinnati Bengals have yet to bring a Super Bowl title back to Ohio, that doesn’t mean the franchise has not had quite a few memorable teams during its 54 seasons in existence.

With the 2023 NFL Playoffs underway, there is a great deal of hope in Cincinnati that this could finally be the year the Bengals go all the way. This season’s team won the AFC North with a 12-4 record and has seemingly taken major steps forward, just a year removed from a surprise trip to Super Bowl LVI.

The current unit, featuring superstar talents like quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, could be the Bengals’ best chance at finally winning an NFL title. However, with the AFC filled with serious contenders, it will be a difficult challenge to make it through the conference to the “Big Game.”

As fans watch the 2022-2023 team attempt to make history as the first in franchise history to win it all, let’s take a look back at the five Bengals teams that are considered the best of all time.

5. 2015 Cincinnati Bengals

cincinnati bengals
Credit: USA Today Network
  • Cincinnati Bengals 2013 record: 12-4
  • End result: Lost in Wild Card Round

The 2015 Bengals group is tied for the best regular season record in team history at 12-4 and won the always-tough AFC North with ease. Andy Dalton looked to be a legitimate franchise QB and AJ Green was in the midst of an incredible run of seven straight seasons with Pro Bowl honors. Unfortunately, like many other Cincy pro football seasons, 2015 ended in disappointment.

The Marvin Lewis-led squad suffered a brutal Wild Card round loss to their most hated of rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, 18-16. It was a game where they couldn’t get out of their own way when they had back-to-back personal foul penalties late, which allowed the Steelers to kick a 35-yard game-winning field goal with 14 seconds left in the game.

4. 1975 Cincinnati Bengals

  • Cincinnati Bengals 1975 record: 11-3
  • End result: Lost in Divisional Round

It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that the Bengals faithful finally got several seasons of winning teams. The 1975 group was the peak period as they finished with one of the best records in franchise history at 11-3. They won the then-AFC Central title and team legend Ken Anderson earned the first of his four Pro Bowl honors.

Just like the 2015 squad, the ’75 team saw their playoff run end in their first game when they came up short against one of the teams of the decade, the Oakland Raiders, 31-28 in the divisional round.

3. 1981 Cincinnati Bengals

  • Cincinnati Bengals 1981 record: 12-4
  • End result: Lost in Super Bowl XVI

The 1981 team was the first to reach the pinnacle of the sport and earn a birth in that year’s Super Bowl. The team had four Pro Bowlers, including a pair of All-Pros in Anderson and punter Pat McInally.

In the Divisional Round, they outlasted a tough Buffalo Bills team 28-21, and then smashed Dan Fouts and the then-San Diego Chargers 27-7 in the “Freezer Bowl” AFC Championship. However, in Super Bowl XVI they faced Joe Montana and the 49ers in the early stages of what would be a run of dominance in the 1980s and fell 26-21.

2. 2021 Cincinnati Bengals

cincinnati bengals
Credit: USA Today Network
  • Cincinnati Bengals 2021 record: 10-7
  • End result: Lost in Super Bowl LVI

The 2021 Cincinnati Bengals team will be looked back on with a great deal of admiration for shocking the NFL in a way a Bengals team had never done before. While young QB Joe Burrow has quickly become one of the best at his position in the game today, 2021 was only his second season in the NFL, and the team was still viewed as a group in the early stages of a turnaround.

However, they ended up being well ahead of schedule as they won 10 games, upset the Las Vegas Raiders in the Wild Card Round, stunned a 12-win Tennessee Titans squad in the Divisional Round, and roared past the Kanas City Chiefs in a highly entertaining AFC Championship shootout.

However, the clock struck midnight in their Cinderella run when they came up short 23-20 to the Los Angeles Rams in a competitive Super Bowl matchup.

1. 1988 Cincinnati Bengals

  • Cincinnati Bengals 1988 record: 12-4
  • End result: Lost in Super Bowl XXIII

The 1988 Cincinnati Bengals team was much like the ’81 squad. They were led by a star quarterback — this time it was All-Pro Boomer Esiason — and had four Pro Bowlers. They also finished with a 12-4 record and won an AFC Central title.

Yet, in their run to the Super Bowl, they dominated. They crushed the Seattle Seahawks 21-13 in the Divisional Round, then a talented Buffalo Bills team 21-10 in the conference title game.

Unfortunately, just like their ’81 counterparts, they came up against Montana, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, and the legendary 49ers. The Bengals would fall again to San Francisco, and the ‘9ers would also earn their third of four championships in the decade against Cincy.