Littered with parody and unpredictability, the NFL is gearing up for another marathon. Omitting the perpetual cellar dwellers seen in other major sports (glancing your way, Charlotte Bobcats) there is never a dull season in the NFL.
Like the Texans in 2011 and the Seahawks in 2012, some teams you’ll look back on and see that it made perfect sense that they broke out. Now, I’d like to introduce you to the Cincinatti Bengals: this year’s breakout team and Super Bowl contenders.
A squad with back-to-back playoff appearances, minimal turnover, and an infusion of young talent. Expect the comrodory on this team to show, especially early in the season
While it doesn’t speak to the Bengals, the putrid competition in the AFC can’t be overlooked. The AFC is becoming AAA to the NFC’s MLB. The worst teams in the NFC, the Carolina Panthers or Detroit Lions, for talking sake, would have a legitimate shot to make the playoffs in the AFC.
The Patriots lost all of their receivers, whether to free agency, injury, or Bubba down in prison block C. The Ravens should still make the playoffs but can’t be expected to repeat last year’s success.
Here are nine other AFC teams – Raiders, Jaguars, Jets, Bills, Chargers, Dolphins, Browns, Titans, and the Chiefs. Point made. You really could put any NFC team in the AFC East or AFC West and they’d win 8 or more games.
Back to why you should like the Bengals. Offensively, they’ve been a one-trick pony the past two seasons. Throw it up and tell AJ Green go get it, definitely a good trick to have. Now they’ve added two playmakers to the mix in rookies Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard.
Eifert, the Bengals first round selection, gives them a talented tight end to compliement outside threat AJ Green. Expected to be used in a variety of ways, he will create mismatches against linebackers in two tight-end sets with fellow tight end Jermaine Gresham, another solid option for quarterback Andy Dalton.
Bernard gives the Bengals the pass-catching, outside the numbers running back that they’ve needed since the Cedric Benson era. Benjarvus Green-Ellis is a capable between-the-tackles plodder and will still be utilized, but Bernard is the type of player defenses need to account for with his ability to beat you in a variety of ways.
These additions provide an array of options for Andy Dalton, who will make or break the Bengals season. If he can spread the ball around efficiently as defenses key on AJ Green it will force teams to leave Green in single coverage more often.
On the other side of the ball the Bengals combine a tenacious pass rush with three very good corners.
Led by Geno Atkins, the front four brought the quaterback down 51 times last season, good for third in the league. Corners Terrance Newman, Leon Hall and Adam Jones with safety Reggie Nelson lead the secondary
The addition of James Harrison, plucked away from the Steelers, and what Cincinatti hopes is a bounce back season from Ray Malaluga, give the Bengals everything they’d need to become an elite defensive unit.
With two years of postseason experience and camaraderie playing alongside each other longer than most teams, the explosive additions to the Bengals offense should propel them to the next level.