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What happens if the Cincinnati Bengals don't finally win a playoff game and end the 26-year drought?

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Posted at 7:00 AM, Sep 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-11 11:27:47-04

This week, John Fay is getting answers to nine questions the Bengals face heading into the regular season. This is the last of the series.

CINCINNATI — This is the big question: What happens if the Bengals don’t finally win a playoff game and end the 26-year drought?

Would that spell the end for Marvin Lewis? Would the club move beyond Andy Dalton?

There’s no question that Lewis and Dalton have gotten the Bengals to a very good spot. The team has made the playoffs each of the last five years. But each time the Bengals lost.

The first four years they were badly outplayed. Last year, they simply imploded and let the victory get away from them in the last two minutes of an 18-16 loss to Pittsburgh.

It’s hard for a 12-4 season to be a disappointment, but it was because of that ending.

The Bengals open Sunday against the Jets in New York.

“It’s a new chapter for all of us,” defensive tackle Carlos Dunlap said. “Obviously, that last chapter we had -- you all know what happened -- now we want to go out and start a new story.”

That’s the difficult thing about the Bengals season: They go in knowing that the only way it’s a success is if they win in January, but January is a long way away.

“You all know the one at the end of the road that we haven’t been able to get over the hump,” Dunlap said. “We’ll answer that question later. The first question is how we’re going to play on Sept. 11.”

The Bengals play on the 15th anniversary of 9/11. That will be a big deal. But, for the Bengals, it’s the first step to getting beyond the debacle that was the Wild Card game.

“I don’t think there’s any bad taste as much as wanting to go out there and prove ourselves,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “One thing about this league is 2014 has nothing to do ’15, and ’15 has nothing to do with ’16. They’re still going to try to beat you, and you’re going to try to beat them. This year, we’ll have to go out each week and handle it like we did the before. That will be the challenge: Can we go out and put together a great football game?”

The Bengals started last year 8-0. That will be difficult this year. They play the first two games on the road. They go to Pittsburgh after the Jets game, then come home to face the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.

Lewis is a one-game-at-time guy, so beating the Jets is foremost on his mind.

“It makes you 1-0, which is a good thing,” he said with a laugh. “I think it kicks off the season the right way. You focus on this since the schedule came out. It’s an opportunity to get off to a fast start.”

If the fast start is followed by another strong regular season, Lewis and Co. will get another chance to try to answer the big question in January.

John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at johnfayman@aol.com.

QUESTION 1: How will Bengals fare without Tyler Eifert?

QUESTION 2: Will Alex Erickson shine in regular season?

QUESTION 3: How much will Bengals miss Vontaze Burfict?

QUESTION 4: Can Cedric Ogbuehi be a solid replacement for Andre Smith?

QUESTION 5: Will Bengals offense change much this season under Ken Zampese?

QUESTION 6: Can Bengals defensive line be NFL's best?

QUESTION 7: Who will be Bengals No. 2 receiver?

QUESTION 8: Can Dalton be as good this year as he was in '15?