There are a lot of things in life easier than being a Cincinnati Bengal fan. For example, being a fan of almost any other team in the NFL. Or plate juggling. Stuck in the AFC North with two perennial powerhouses (Ravens & Steelers) that seem to make the playoffs every year, the Bengals will not be a lot of people’s pick to win the division in the immediate future despite their young nucleus of talent. But in the NFL teams can go from “on the cusp” to serious contender quicker than you’d think, so there is a lot of optimism in Cincinnati. This last season they started strong and then faded a bit as the schedule got harder, but they were able to squeak out enough wins down the stretch that they made the playoffs for the third time in two decades. This is your 2011 Bengals retrospective!
Team Highlight: I’m going to cheat and give two answers here. The most obvious one being that they made the playoffs, because as I alluded to in the intro this has not been a powerhouse football team recently. But the one that we might think about more a few years from now is how they managed to trade a mediocre quarterback who had been sitting on the couch for months and vowed to never play for them again to the Raiders for what is going to end up being multiple first round draft picks. Honestly, just think about that for a moment. But don’t think about it too hard, because this is the Raiders we’re talking about. I’ve talked a lot about how this is one of the worst sports trades of all time on the Raiders end, but on the flipside the Bengals’ owner and GM Mike Brown deserves some credit for making this happen. This is hard for me to say, as I have long thought of him as…well, an idiot (two words: Akili Smith.)
Team Lowlight: Losing in the playoffs isn’t the lowlight here because it was a young team on the road, and I don’t think anyone expected them to make a lot of noise in the postseason anyway. My choice is mid-season where after a 6-2 start against “subpar” competition, all eyes were on the Bengals in weeks 10 and 11 as they faced the bullies of the AFC North in back to back weeks. While they played well for stretches of each game, they ultimately lost against the Steelers and Ravens by a touchdown in each game which made all the pundits predictably say “the Bengals aren’t for real”. This had to be a deflating stretch for a young team, even though they played better than I thought.
Team MVP: When Andy Dalton led the TCU Horned Frogs to victory in the 2011 Rose Bowl against the Wisconsin Badgers I was impressed. Then he played in the pros, and I was a lot more impressed. For part of the season I really thought you could make a case for him to be rookie of the year over the amazing Cam Newton. Dalton only had 13 interceptions, a pretty good stat for a rookie who played in all 16 games to be sure, and he got the ball down the field more than a lot of people expected him to. A.J. Green is already one of the best deep threats in the league and Jermaine Gresham is becoming another great weapon at the tight end position. With these receiving options and a decent running game I don’t expect a sophomore slump from Big Daddy Ginger. Doubt anyone calls him that, but I’m going to start.
Needs: With wide receiver and acrobat Jerome Simpson a free agent and dealing with some off the field trouble, it might make sense to add a veteran to the receiving corps but this doesn’t feel like a huge deal at this point. With the offense getting less run oriented, they are rumored to be thinking about a running back that works better in space early on in the draft and slowly faze Cedric Benson out of the offense. The Bengals might want to also think about drafting a cornerback also, as Nate Clements certainly isn’t getting any younger and they need more depth in the defensive backfield. Meanwhile, back-up cornerback Benjamin Button actually is getting younger. This joke sucks.
What character from The Wire do the Bengals remind me of: Sorry Nate, I got nothing in mind for the liquor bits this week. Anyway, for this I’m going to have to go with Ziggy Zbotka. He was a laughing stock for a while, then out of nowhere he kills a dude. This is kind of like how the Bengals sucked for a while, and then they suddenly made the playoffs. And then they force fed a duck liquor until it died. You remember that part of the season, right?
Straight Cash Homey Meter:
This is a team that is only one year removed from the Ochocinco/TO circus. We think they’ll pass.
Entirely Too Early Prediction for 2012: 11-5 is my prediction. I just don’t see this team relapsing into old Bengal habits. Regardless, I think that record will only be good for second in the division. They already have a good defense in place, plus the Bengals have two first round draft picks along with the cap room to spend this offseason. This team could be one year away from doing something REALLY special.
Come back tomorrow when our newest writer Chris Dorsey breaks down the Steelers season!