By Cody Strahm @CodyJStrahm on July 7, 2014
There is a large contingent of NFL followers, whether fans or media, that are down on the Cincinnati Bengals after last season's first-round playoff exit. While the club's prospects of winning big games remain in question, Marvin Lewis' team is still the class of the AFC North. Here are five reasons why the Bengals will win the division once again.
The Bengals ran away with the AFC North in 2013, finishing the regular season with a three-game lead over the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. Perhaps both rivals improved through free agency and the draft, but it's difficult to see the gap between the Bengals and the rest of the division shortening much on paper. Cincinnati is by far the division's most complete team.
As effective as Cincinnati's passing game was in 2013, it could be on the verge of getting even better. Two pass catchers, receiver Marvin Jones and tight end Tyler Eifert, appear poised for breakout campaigns. Jones managed 10 touchdowns during his sophomore season last fall despite splitting time with Mohamed Sanu at the No. 2 spot and Eifert possesses the potential to emerge as one of the game's most productive receiving tight ends.
The one area where the Bengals didn't finish in the top 10 last season in regards to total yardage rankings was rushing offense. Cincinnati finished a slightly below average 18th in rushing yards per contest. To compensate, the Bengals nabbed LSU running back Jeremy Hill during May's draft. Hill was considered the top prospect at the position by many analyst and complements second-year back Giovani Bernard nicely.
There's no denying how shaky Andy Dalton's play was in the Bengals' first-round playoff exit in January. Through three years in the league, when the moment has gotten bigger, Dalton has often gotten smaller. But he's not the bum some are making him out to be. He's still one of the league's most productive regular-season quarterbacks, and he's more than capable of making enough plays and avoiding enough mistakes to keep the Bengals winning.
The Bengals ranked in the top five in passing yards and rushing yards allowed last season. And they did so without defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who is one of the best defensive players in the game, for half the year. Losing defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and defensive end Michael Johnson hurts, but the talent is still in place for the defense to finish near the top of the league in several statistical categories.
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