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NFL playoffs 2015: How much success is enough success?

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Another playoff loss for Marvin Lewis and the Bengals has us wondering about the measure of acceptable success in the NFL.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

How much success is enough success? Given the response to yet another postseason loss for the Cincinnati Bengals, I'm going to assume that answer is different for each team's fan base.

It was painful to watch the Bengals lose to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, and I don't even have a proverbial horse in this race. I'm from Indiana originally, so it makes sense that I'd like to see Andrew Luck and company move on to the next round, but I'm still smarting from the Chiefs loss last season. And there's something about seeing Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton smart from the sting of previous playoff defeats that makes you cheer for them like we do for such underdogs.

Plus there's that Chiefs loss. Wait, I already said that.

The question came to me while watching the AFC Wild Card game because the Bengals are, by most definitions, a successful NFL team. After the regular season was over, 62 percent of NFL fans watched their teams pack up locker rooms and go home for the offseason. That's 20 of 32 teams. That means the majority of NFL fans would likely say making the postseason equals a successful season.

The Bengals not only made the postseason this year, but they've made the playoffs five of the last six seasons. That's a claim only four other NFL teams can make (or better): Baltimore, Green Bay, Indianapolis, New England. Placed in that company, it'd be natural to assume the Bengals are largely considered an elite or near-elite team, and that the fan base is very pleased with the results. You'd also be wrong.

There's no need to retread the Bengals-as-playoff-losers storyline that has been retold all week long (and will be told once again once Monday hits). But let's just say that Andy Dalton is now in historic territory, Marvin Lewis faces even more doubters, and the team's ownership has some serious questions to answer. None of which is more important than the one I presented earlier.

How much success is enough success?

On Monday, the masses will gather the torches and pitchforks and call for action. Maybe it will be for the Bengals to draft a real challenger for Dalton at quarterback. Maybe they'll call for coordinators like Hue Jackson to get fired. Maybe they'll even ask for Marvin Lewis to be ousted, since his numbers don't look so great in a certain light.

They have good reason to revolt. That has to be maddening to experience the NFL fan's version of Groundhog Day every year. The team has a solid core, should be competitive for the Super Bowl and six chances are more than enough in a league whose initials often stand for Not For Long.

But then there's the bigger picture, the one where the Bengals continue to play in January long after everyone else has gone home. Even franchises celebrated in recent years can't boast the same longstanding success of the Bengals -- not the Seahawks, not the 49ers, not the Broncos. That has to count for something, right?

As a Chiefs fan, I'd certainly think so. Then again, I haven't been subjected to watching the same script unfold year after year after year under the same leadership with the same quarterback. Time has likely proven that this combination on and off the field just can't get it done.

It's just that so many others would love to have that same problem.