This is You Heard It Here First – where thinking outside the box and predicting the future is a social pastime.
We’ve heard a lot this offeseason about the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens being in a rebuilding phase. We’ve also heard a lot about the improvements being made by the Cleveland Browns. What we haven’t heard much about is the team I believe is poised to make a jump to being a perennial playoff team – the Cincinnati Bengals.
When I look at this team I see a franchise that has been liberated from their past. Look at some of the names that are gone from this team in the since the beginning of the 2010 season – Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Carson Palmer, Cedric Benson, Nate Livings, Dhani Jones, Keith Rivers, Chris Crocker, Roy Williams. Among that list of just a few that have moved on we see a bunch of players who while productive in the past had been dragging this team down and it is obvious that team management is actively seeking to promote youth.
While the Steelers and Ravens have been getting rid of veteran players there is a major difference – those two teams have been waiting to do so and are just at the beginning of the process. Both of those teams will need a year and maybe longer to rebuild into the powerhouses they once were and as we have seen from other teams around the league it can take many many years for this to happen as shown by the once proud Buffalo Bills and the only recently rejuvenated Green Bay Packers.
Unlike their AFC North competition, the Cincinnati Bengals are at the point where their rebuilding is almost complete. Team owners have been patient in allowing the coaching staff led by Marvin Lewis to do the job of fixing the team and looking at the current roster it appears that patience will soon be rewarded.
On offense this team looks very balanced with capable but not necessarily spectacular players all over the park. 2011 draft picks quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green have quickly built a very good chemistry and impressed in their rookie campaigns so as they develop further we can expect that partnership to only become stronger and more productive. The team has more talented youth in the passing game in 2010 draft picks tight end Jermaine Gresham and slot receiver Jordan Shipley and also the most recent addition wide receiver Mohammed Sanu from Rutgers who looks to be the team’s possession receiver.
The running back position looks very encouraging also with young free agent Benjarvus Green-Ellis brought in to replace Benson and some very solid depth behind him in Brian Leonard, Bernard Scott and rookie Dan Herron. Then there is the offensive line that while filled with players that are relatively unknown to casual fans are rock solid in their jobs led by center Kyle Cook who is quietly establishing himself as one of the best centers in the NFL.
On defense, the Bengals appear to be filled with young talent that are emerging as defensive stars of the future. This is one of those defenses that is filled with role-players who won’t stun you with their above average play but rather will knit together as a unit to support their offense and get the job done. Rey Maualuga leads the defense at MLB and although there are questions as to whether he is suited to that role or should be moved back to the outside it has to be said that his production has been very good. The defensive line has been given an influx of youth in recent years with players like Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins and the Bengals reaffirmed that stance by drafting two very solid defensive tackles this year in Devon Still and Brandon Thompson.
In the secondary there is still some veteran experience here with Nate Clements still around but this isn’t likely to last long as the team drafted the highly talented Dre Kirkpatrick who is expected to take the job sooner rather than later and will hopefully learn from Clements along the way. The team will also have the uber-talented Leon Hall making a welcome return after his season-ending injury last year that had a severe impact on the team’s pass defense as Hall was the lynchpin of the secondary. I fully expect this unit to perform a lot better than the numbers they had in 2011.
When you look at both sides of the ball the Cincinnati Bengals are a team on the up and up with plenty of youth and most importantly plenty of talented depth. Their schedule looks pretty good too as they open the season with the Ravens, Browns, Redskins, Jaguars, Dolphins, Browns again and finally the Steelers before a well placed week 8 bye. The second half is a bit tougher as they face the rest of the NFC East and have return matches against the Ravens and Steelers but they also get the entire AFC West so there’s a possibility the Bengals could start with 6 or 7 wins before the bye and then finish with at least 6 more. So yeah – I’ve got a strong feeling this is a 12 win team.
All in all this is a team I like a lot and I’m expecting them to easily win the AFC North with at least 12 wins. When it happens I won’t be surprised and now neither will you because You Heard It Here First.
Topics: A.J. Green, AFC North, Andy Dalton, Benjarvus Green-ellis, Bernard Scott, Brian Leonard, Carlos Dunlap, Cincinnati Bengals, Dan Herron, Devon Still, Dre Kirkpatrick, Geno Atkins, Jermaine Gresham, Jordan Shipley, Kyle Cook, Leon Hall, Marvin Lewis, Mohammed Sanu, Nate Clements, Preview/Prediction, Rey Maualuga, You Heard It Here First