Originally posted on This Given Sunday  |  Last updated 4/9/12

GEORGETOWN, KY - JULY 31: Marvin Lewis the Head Coach of the Cincinnati Bengals is pictured during the Bengals training camp at Georgetown College on July 31, 2009 in Georgetown, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

I'm a firm believer that stability and sound decision making will eventually breed success. Apparently, that's the Cincinnati Bengals' view as well.

Marvin Lewis took over as the Bengals head coach in 2003. Since that date, Lewis has led the Bengals to just three playoff appearances and zero playoff victories. In 9 seasons as the Bengals head coach, he's compiled a record of just 69-74-1. So we have to wonder; why is Marvin Lewis still the Bengals head coach?

The first four years of Lewis' tenure in Cincinnati were marked by three 8-8 campaigns and a lone 11-5 season that saw the Bengals make the playoffs for the first time under Lewis. In those four years, the Bengals finished second in the AFC North twice, and they never finished last in the division. For the Bengals, that was a vast improvement from what had come to be expected of the Bengals.

In some ways, those first four years were Lewis' best years in Cincinnati. In the five years since then, the Bengals have finished below .500 three times, but in other ways they've been better. The Bengals have made playoff appearances twice since Lewis' first four seasons.

There are a number of reasons that the Bengals and Lewis can turn to in an effort to explain why they've been so inconsistent over the past decade. In the early years of Lewis' tenure, the Bengals had a high powered offense with little or no defensive backing. Over the past few seasons, that trend has reversed. In 2011, the Bengals came into the season as the most underrated team in the league. Most analysts, writers, and bloggers thought the Bengals were too young and under-talented to compete. They proved the critics wrong, sneaking into the playoffs with a 9-7 record.

So what do we make of the 2012 Bengals? Should we raise our expectations, or should we keep expectations modest.

Frankly, the Bengals overachieved in 2011, but there's no reason they can't do it again. The Bengals were carried by their defense last season. There's simply no denying that. Andy Dalton represents the future in Cincinnati, but their defense represents the here and now.

In 2012 I expect Dalton to continue to develop. The Bengals' level of success will likely ebb and flow as Dalton's performances do, but they'll be on the rise. They're one of the bright, young teams in the NFL, and I have to believe that they will be the team to beat in the AFC North over the next decade. It may be too early to declare, but I believe the Bengals are back to stay, and the rest of the AFC North should be taking notice.

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