Since it looks like the Cincinnati Reds decided to end their season at the All-Star Break, this past weekend marked a change in sports mode for me. The NFL Network ran last year’s HBO “Hard Knocks” series featuring the Bengals and since I don’t have HBO, it was my first chance to watch all the episodes. Add to that the 2013 Bengals highlight film that I snuck in late Sunday night and I am ready for some football!
Let me be the first to say so and then 99% of you can disagree, the 2014 version of the Cincinnati Bengals has as much talent as any team in football. That being said, it doesn’t mean that it will translate into a Super Bowl season. It certainly hasn’t the last three years and there are certainly a number of factors that may be working against the men in stripes in the upcoming campaign.
First and foremost, whether you agree or not, the success of the Bengals will still revolve around #14. As of this writing the contract situation with Andy Dalton is not settled though I agree with many of the Bengal beat writers that there may be an announcement on that soon as it would not be productive to have that hanging over the quarterback and the team’s head as the regular season progresses. I am not ashamed to admit that I am a fan of Dalton as long as they don’t make him throw that out pattern that accounts for most of his interceptions. Do you realize that only Dan Marino, Matt Ryan, and Joe Flacco have won more game in their first three NFL seasons? Not bad company there.
With the array of talent on the Bengals offense, there really is no reason why Dalton shouldn’t even get better in 2014. One drawback might be Hue Jackson as a new offensive coordinator and the adjustment there, but that shouldn’t take long to fix if need be. A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert—the talent level on offense is unmatched. How will that translate into success? Stay tuned on that one.
On defense, the Bengals are also deep and talented but will need Geno Atkins and Leon Hall to return to full form from their 2013 season-ending injuries. First round pick Darqueze Dennard gives the secondary depth and Vontaze Burfict is a stud at linebacker. Again though, a new coordinator will mean adjustments but this defense has the chance to be special. Let me give you a couple of guys on defense to keep your eye on-linebacker Vincent Rey and safety George Iloka.
Though they all ended in disappointment, three straight trips to the playoffs for this franchise can’t be disregarded. That task will be much tougher this season mainly because the teams in the NFL keep getting better. The AFC North can legitimately be called one of the toughest divisions in the league and in my opinion, the dreaded Pittsburgh Steelers may be the biggest threat to the Bengals defending their division crown. Don’t discount the Ravens, especially with the addition of Steve Smith at wide receiver, and if “Johnny Goofball” turns out to be the star quarterback that Browns fans have wished for, then who knows how the division might turn.
The Bengals went 8-0 at home last season and to repeat that, they would be posting wins in 2014 over the Falcons, Titans, Panthers, Ravens, Jaguars, Browns, Steelers, and Broncos. That looks like a monumental task, not to mention a killer road stretch in November that sees them traveling three consecutive weeks with trips to New Orleans, Houston, and Tampa Bay. Toss in road games at New England and Indianapolis and it isn’t hard to see that an 11-5 repeat with be nothing short of a miracle. Most of the pundits are predicting 9-7 for the Bengals and I can’t decide if that is a step backward or not considering the competition.
However it turns out, the excitement of the approaching NFL season is upon us and I will soon make a trip to training camp to check out the orange and black myself and will certainly be reporting back on these pages. Maybe by then the local baseball squad will have righted the ship, but personally I am ready to spend my Friday evenings with the Greyhounds, my Saturday afternoons with the Fighting Irish and the Buckeyes (and an occasional Dragon) and my Sundays yelling “Who-Dey!” Let me also add that fall weather is the best too so with apologies to Andy Williams, it is really “the most wonderful time of the year.”