The Cincinnati Bengals were dead before the season began.
Ask any NFL analyst, any sports journalist; hell, ask anyone who has ever watched a football game, and they'll all tell you the same thing: The Cincinnati Bengals had no chance this season.
How could they? This was a team that went 4-12 the year before. A team whose franchise quarterback refused to play a single game. A team who traded away their biggest offensive weapon to the New England Patriots.
And, worst of all, they were a team who had to start a rookie quarterback and wide receiver with only the shortest of offseasons to prepare them.
In short, just about everyone expected the Bengals to bottom out this year.
Everyone, apparently, but the Cincinnati Bengals.
Somehow, in spite of all the questions, all the struggles, in spite of pure logic itself, we somehow find ourselves at the end of Week 16 with the Bengals in the driver's seat for one of the AFC's wild cards.
The team that everyone left for dead before the year even began is now on the verge of returning to the playoffs.
How could this have happened?
It happened because a defense that countless sports writers questioned has ended up as the sixth-best in the league.
It happened because A.J. Green will catch over 1,000 yards in his rookie season.
But perhaps most of all, it happened because second-round pick Andy Dalton has proved himself to be a franchise-worthy quarterback.
Will this team win a Super Bowl? Probably not. In fact, seeing as their crucial, season-ending game is against none other than 11-win Baltimore, there's no guarantee that the Bengals will even make the postseason.
But regardless of the way the season ends, make no mistake; there is no team in the league with a brighter future than the Cincinnati Bengals.
How else would you describe a team that will finish the season with at least nine wins and still has at least four picks in the first two rounds of the next two drafts?
The sheer amount of talent that will be on this roster within the next three years is mind-boggling.
As the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens continue to age as the Cincinnati Bengals overflow with youthful talent, the day will soon come that we might see a dynamic change of power in the AFC North.
And when that day comes, don't be surprised if a Super Bowl parade through the streets of Cincinnati is far behind.