Right now, the Bengals have a fairly good shot at making the playoffs. According to the projection models at Football Outsiders and Advanced NFL Stats, both of which take into account teams' current records and how many more games they're likely to win, the Bengals are the clear favorite for the second wild-card spot in the AFC. This is probably more a testament to the pathetic year the AFC is having than to the Bengals' strength as a team, but still, they find themselves in a position none of us thought they'd be in this (or even next) season.
Moreover, the Bengals finally have a likeable group of players and coaches. Virtually every major contributor -- Andy Dalton, Jay Gruden, Mike Zimmer, AJ Green, etc. -- works hard and focuses on football, resulting in them leading this rebuilt team to instant success. Us fans are proud to root for them, and can anticipate their even greater effectiveness in future years.
And yet, Paul Brown Stadium continues to not be sold out (except for when those former Bengals/Browns/Rams/Lions fans diehard, well-traveling Steelers fans come to town), with a blackout in place for tomorrow's game against Cleveland. Although the poor economy certainly plays a role in this, it's clear that the discontent for Mike Brown and his Bengals has reached new levels. People aren't being convinced by the Bengals' early success; they need further evidence that the organization really has changed, that this winning can actually be sustained. They're also more hesitant than ever to give money to a man who unethically landed a lopsided stadium deal currently ravishing Hamilton County taxpayers.
Mike Brown can no longer get away with his incompetent, lazy methods of running a football team, at least not if he wants to sell his stadium out. Occasional winning will not be enthusiastically embraced or tolerated; only the maintained high performance of the Bengals, brought about by hiring more scouts, by building an indoor practice facility, and by hiring a general manager, will be accepted. Until this occurs, Mikey Boy won't reach the standard fans have finally begun to hold him to.
So, as painful as the blackouts may be this season for those in the Cincinnati area, they truly are a sign of great progress. The Bengals, as they did in 2005, have, with their young nucleus of players and their draft picks from the Carson Palmer trade, a chance to become a constant playoff contender, and hopefully even more than that. All of us deserve this; all of us must work to make this possible by continuing to not sell out Paul Brown Stadium.