The Cincinnati Bengals have one of the most talented rosters in the league but unfortunately, they have mediocrity at the most important position. If you plug a top quarterback into the Bengals’2013 lineup, they immediately become Super Bowl favorites.
Cincinnati is still a legitimate contender, but if they want to win their first playoff game since the 1990 season, Andy Dalton will have to step his game up — there will be no excuse not to this season. Dalton has two exciting new receiving threats in TE Tyler Eifert and speedy, pass-catching RB Giovani Bernard. Both rookies have looked great thus far, and figure to be significant parts of the offense.
When you add the freakish abilities of A.J. Green and Cincy’s top-notch offensive line, you have to figure Dalton is in an incredible position to succeed. Now entering his third season, the young quarterback has everything in place for a breakout year.
On defense, the Bengals should repeat as one of the best crews in the league. It all starts with the defensive line, and there is none better than Cincy’s. Geno Atkins and company return all the major pieces of the astounding group who combined for 43 of the team’s 51 sacks in 2012. The Bengals’ d-line tallied more sacks than 26 entire NFL teams.
The secondary and linebackers may not be at the pinnacle, but they’re among the league’s best. The addition of LB James Harrison will bring some nice production as well as some great veteran leadership. The scary-good cornerback duo of Leon Hall and Terrance Newman return to lead the secondary, but the departure of Chris Crocker leaves some question marks at safety.
With the exception of the gutted Baltimore Ravens, the Bengals don’t play a single 2012 playoff team on the road, though they will face five of them at home. They will not be a big underdog in any game in the upcoming season. If Dalton steps up and Bernard becomes the home run hitter they hope he will be, the Bengals could be the one-seed in the AFC.
I’m not ready to take those hopes to the bank yet, but I do think the defense is good enough to take over games. I predict Cincy will end the season at around 12-4 and would be surprised if they don’t win the AFC North.