Starting four rookies and devoid of showboating athletes, the Bengals have become known as a young team that hit the reset button following the harsh reality of what was to be a promising season in 2010.
Having renewed his contract for an additional two years, Marvin Lewis has come into the homestretch, a second-chance that either could be his rebirth in Cincinnati or spell the end of his time with with the Bengals.
Seemingly, Bengals' owner—Mike Brown—has privately given over more of the helm to Lewis (though no direct, public confirmation has been given) leading one to believe that either Lewis has received the veritable noose to hang himself with or the freedom to finally create a consistent winner.
To understand where Lewis may end up, there are a two perspectives one has to consider—historical and logical.
First historically, the Bengals have had nine coaches since Cincinnati's first year in the modern professional era of football—1968.
During the ownership era of Paul Brown, five coaches coached over the first 24 years of the organization's existence with only one of the transitions between coaches coming during the season when Bill Johnson (Paul Brown's successor) started the 1978 season at 0-5. The end result of Paul's tenure as owner—a 174-181-1 record equating to a respectable .490 winning percentage.
Which point is closer to when the Bengals should cut bait and fire Marvin Lewis?
In the present ownership era, Mike Brown has employed four coaches who have brought him a record of 115-191-1 paltry .390 winning percentage over 20 years of service—transitioning two mid-season. It is worth noting that Mike has never terminated a coach with over four wins in a single season after conclusion, but has followed a weak start by dropping the axe (Coslet 0-3 in 2000; Shula 1-6 in 1996).
Either way, Mike Brown has left very little to understand by way of history, leaving one to assume that with Marvin having won the first game, his season will last at least until the end of the seventh game of the season—at which point a 1-6 record would likely send him by way of Dave Shula.
Yet history aside, when Bengals' ownership should fire him—at earliest—with the logic of a weak schedule considered (even being the Bengals and young) seems to point to the first reflection point after Week 6 — by evaluating during the bye week of Week 7.
Should Lewis have anything less than three wins by the bye week—playing at the banged up Denver Broncos in Week 2, the in-transition San Francisco 49ers at home in Week 3, the mysterious though underachieving Buffalo Bills in the friendly confines of Paul Brown Stadium in Week 4, on the road to less than spectacular Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 5, and to sum up the start of the season with the impotent Peyton Manning-less Indianapolis Colts in Week 6 — Lewis should be hasta la vista terminated.
Three wins would be a generous compromise, as a winning record should and could easily be had going into the brutal homestretch of the schedule.
Starting Week 8, the results of the Bengals' season is anybody's guess. The Bengals are expected to be bounced and battered like a pinata with two games against both the Steelers and Ravens along with the upstart Houston Texans.
Yet games at Seattle, Tennessee and St. Louis, combined with a home games against the Browns and the Arizona Cardinals, leave the prospect of netting out at least two more wins during the course of the season.
Lewis has the team he wants, a veritable "next year's team," which must show that there is potential next year. Youth is well established with a sprinkle of experience and talent to pave the way to postseason riches.
To play for a championship starts with development. How the Bengals end 2011 will tell the tale. Anything less than 5-11 (albeit with saving controversy not reflected in the team's record), and Lewis should find himself out in the cold looking for something new.