The next team up on our Gridiron Blitz is the Cincinnati Bengals
Music to listen to: Voyage to Atlantis by the Isley Brothers
Continuing with my soul music theme from yesterday, I’ll go with some Isley Brothers.
Current State: The Bengals had an excellent regular season exceeding expectations to gain a 10-6 record and capturing the AFC North title. Using a solid running game led by the rejuvenated Cedric Benson and a surprisingly salty defense, Cincinnati was able to achieve its maximum potential. However, the Bengals did lose four of its last five contests in the regular season and dropped its home playoff game against the New York Jets so all was not well in the Queen City.
Biggest Change: The Bengal have been aggressive an addressing the lack of explosion on their offense. The signings of receivers Antonio Bryant and Terrell Owens, the drafting of tight end Jermaine Gresham have shown that Cincinnati realized that the Jets playoff game showed them that if they want to continue improving as a team, the offense needed to get better.
Uniform Grade: I love the colors of orange and black together. The helmet may be in the top-five for the entire league. Solid grades all around. Grade: B+
Best Player: Before Carson Palmer injured his knee a few years ago in the home playoff game against Pittsburgh, he was slowly creeping himself up the list of a top-five quarterback in the NFL. Since then, he’s had come back from that severe knee injury and return an arm injury that ended his 2008 year. Last year showed that he is getting back on track. After the unarguable top three quarterbacks in the NFL, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, Palmer may be the next in line if he has a productive 2010 season.
Most Important Player: For the Bengals to continue down this successful path, running back Cedric Benson has to stay healthy and productive. The backups at running back are Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard, both serviceable guys but not enough to repeat as AFC North champions. If Benson goes down, then the Bengals will have major problems this season.
Best Case: The offense develops from plodding to borderline explosive and becomes a top-five unit in the league. Both Owens and Chad Ochocinco get along and accept a decrease in numbers from the receiving position. The defensive line gives them more production than last year and takes pressure off the elite defensive secondary. Repeat as AFC North champs.
Worst Case: The offense stays plodding but become less successful than last year. The personalities of Ochocinco, Owens, Adam “Pacman” Jones and others makes the locker room too volatile to win. Pittsburgh and Baltimore takes major steps forward and overtakes them in the division.
Coaching: I learned that Marvin Lewis has been with the Bengals for eight seasons, making him the fifth-longest tenured coach in the NFL. He’s been able to take an embarrassing franchise before he got there and turned it into respectability. However, several things have to concern you as a spectator. First, his general manager, Mike Brown, continues to insist on taking on troubled characters both on and off the field (see the signings of Pacman Jones, receiver Matt Jones, Owens, etc.). This will eventually blow up the entire franchise.
Secondly, Lewis comes into this season on the last year of his deal, which in itself is an issue but when you combined that with highly-regarded defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer having a three-year deal in place, that’s a problem. You can’t expect the head coach to work without an extension in place, yet give the defensive coordinator that much security.
First Memory of team: The Icky Shuffle was done once or thirty times in the playgrounds that I used to play football at. That was just the simple move you did when you scored a touchdown, hope someone brings it back. I’m looking at you Ochocinco.
Seriously, I do remember the Bengals of the late 1980’s because I had much love for the uniforms as mentioned above but I also liked Boomer Esiason because he had a lanky look and was left-handed which was awesome when I was younger.
There were two things that I wanted the ability to do when I was a young buck back in Brooklyn. The first thing was the ability to grow a curly afro. The second thing was to be left-handed. While others would mock left-handers, I would be jealous of their skills. I can’t tell you how many times I told myself that I was going to learn how to be a lefty. I would do all of the things you were told like brushing my teeth with my left hand or using my fork with the hand, even learning how to write the alphabet, etc. However, that got too tedious and I would go back to being a right hander.
The point is that seeing Boomer doing his thing with his left hand was one of the most tremendous things that I had ever seen as a young kid.
Schedule: They have to deal with Baltimore, Cleveland and Pittsburgh in the division.
As far as home games, they get Bucs, Dolphins, Bills, Saints and Chargers. All five of those are winnable games under the right circumstances. The road slate includes New England, Carolina, Atlanta, Indianapolis and the New York Jets. Four out of those five games will be difficult and may even be penciled in as losses at this stage of the preseason.
City Nicknames: I like two in particular, the Natti and Queen City.
Fantasy Focus: I’m bullish on Benson because despite all of the additions to the tight end and receiver position of the team, the Bengals still want to establish the run and Benson will get his chances. I would be weary of taking any of the receivers in a high spot because the distribution will be varied from week to week, but that also means that Palmer will probably be throwing the ball more often so that’s something to consider as well.
Overall Outlook: I like this team on paper but the schedule will be too much for them. They will sweep Cleveland but will probably get swept by Baltimore. I’ll give them a split against Pittsburgh. The road slate really concerns me.
Final Record: 7-9
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