Although both have 10-3 records, Cincinnati should beat San Francisco today in what could be a Super Bowl preview. The Bengals simply have more talent.
Despite seasons of 4-12, 4-12 and 6-10 the last three years, the Bengals are a classic NFL example of improving almost entirely through the draft, a strategy used so successfully by Pittsburgh and Dallas the last decade.
Thanks in part to two lopsided trades with Philadelphia, the Bengals have had 11 first-round draft picks the last six years. Half their players were chosen in first three rounds and 35 of the 45 were drafted by the team. Cincinnati has only six rookies.
All 22 starters were drafted by the Bengals, and 16 of them were picked in the first three rounds. Nine were No. 1 selections.
The 49ers, 2-14, 2-14 and 6-10 the last three years, are the product of a much more rapid building process. Twenty-nine of their 45 players have been added the last two years, 20 this season. Thirteen of those are rookies.
Only 23 players, including four on the first round and 15 in the first three rounds, were drafted by the 49ers, who have made shrewd trades and signed free agents to fill in their most glaring holes. Seven players have been acquired in deals, including Fred Dean and Fred Solomon, two of their most valuable athletes. They have 15 free agents, Cincinnati seven.
By comparison, 11 of the Redskins were their team's draft choices, two of them No. 1's, and 23 were free agents.