After a long, arduous off-season full of labor disputes, player movement, and idle banter, we are finally ready for some football. My Facebook news feed the past couple of days has become a constant celebration of the NFL’s return, with friends across the country exclaiming hope for their respective teams, even the Bengals. This final week leading up to the first game is always one of the most exciting times to be a football fan, with every team facing a blank slate and endless possibilities. For at least a couple more days, Cincinnati is undefeated.
But as Bengals fans know all too well, that hope doesn’t really spring eternal. After losing a shootout to the Packers last night, the Saints are already in last place. On Tuesday morning, 15 more teams will be trying to recover from an 0-1 start. So what can Who Dey Nation expect from the season ahead? To answer that question, we enlisted the help of some of the web’s most prominent and wise Bengals bloggers, writers, and thinkers to make their predictions about what lies ahead.
1. What would Andy Dalton need to do for you to consider his rookie season a success?
Ben Bergin, CM Bengals Blog: I’ve gone on record as saying I think that if Dalton plays smart, and the rest of the team supports him, he could have an extremely successful 10-6 season. However, given the circumstances, if by season’s close he hasn’t retired to California, I think we’d all be pretty pleased.
Sridhar Pappu, CM Bengals Blog: Um, win. But this can’t be about stats or sadly games. In order to consider his season a success, he has to make plays that will make the fan base believe and almost sell out games and have people show up to Georgetown next year. This is as dark as the team has entered a season for a very long time.
Josh Kirkendall, Cincy Jungle: Dalton is the first Bengals rookie to start the regular season opener since Greg Cook in 1969, and Cincinnati is implementing a new offense with a rookie offensive coordinator. Expectations for Andy Dalton should stick to the traditional “manage the game” and “don’t turn the ball over” philosophies for rookie quarterbacks. With the offense recommitting to the running game, keeping five running backs (including Chris Pressley at fullback) on the 53-man roster, Dalton doesn’t need to be the next Ken Anderson or Boomer Esiason.
C. Byers, Stripe Hype: When grading Dalton’s season, I give little value to how many games the team wins. The most important thing to me is Dalton looks better at the end of the season than the start. If he shows that he’s adjusted to the NFL, making better decisions when throwing the ball, I’ll call it a success.
2. What under-the-radar player will have the biggest impact on the Bengals season?
Ben Bergin, CM Bengals Blog: defensive tackle Geno Atkins. And not just because I named my fantasy team Geno’s Aktins Diet. Opposition quarterbacks are going to need bigger boats.
Sridhar Pappu, CM Bengals Blog: Chris Pressley. When the Bengals ran well in recent years, it was because the running back, be it Corey Dillon or Rudi Johnson or Cedric Benson, had a fullback he could count on. This might not be a running league anymore, but this is a running team, and Pressley will have a lot to say about how Benson does. Just like Kraus did with Robert Guillaume’s Benson on the T.V. show.
Josh Kirkendall, Cincy Jungle: Pat Sims. Offensive and defensive lines are often under-the-radar positions. There’s no area on the field more critical, or more underappreciated, than the men that fight in the trenches. Attention focuses on linemen only when they’re not performing up to expectations. They’re are like officials—we rip them to shreds when they get a call wrong, but how many cheers do the officials get for what can be a trying gig? Fans will recognize Sims this year as force that opposing offenses will struggle to clear from the point of attack.
C Byers, Stripe Hype: Honestly, the whole team is “under the radar.” I hate to do this, but I’m selecting the entire O-Line, rather than a player. Smith, Boling, Cook, Livings, and Whitworth will set the tone for the season. If the Bengals big men win at the line of scrimmage, the run game can move the chains and young Andy Dalton can stay upright to throw the ball. If they can’t, expect the run game to falter and Dalton to be abused.
3. Will A.J. Green be a better NFL receiver than Julio Jones?
Ben Bergin, CM Bengals Blog: Absolutely. A.J. has softer hands, better body control, and the X-factor. Alright, so he’s on a team of unknowns. Jones is on a stronger, more established team. But Jimmy Hendrix will always be remembered as a greater musician than Ringo Starr, even if most people can’t name a single member of his Experience.
Sridhar Pappu, CM Bengals Blog: I’m a Big 10 guy who’s never seen either of them play in college. That said, Jones is going to start on a division-winning team with a Pro Bowl quarterback throwing to him and a Pro Bowl wide receiver lining up next to him. A.J. might be a better receiver in the long term, but I see Jones having better statistics right away.
Josh Kirkendall, Cincy Jungle: Jones has the immediate advantage because he’s joining a team with an established offense and an experienced quarterback in Matt Ryan. Green will have neither, with the Bengals implementing an entirely new offense with a rookie quarterback. Talent-wise, few will dispute that Green is better. But Jones is in a better position for immediate production, at least during their respective rookie seasons. Green’s success will depend on the growth of the supporting cast around him.
C. Byers, Stripe Hype: Yes. Not being a homer, but I’ve spent hours evaluating the two. Green is more dynamic and can make a big play every time he touches the ball. Julio built a track record for playing through injuries. It’s one thing to play through pain, but it seemed that he was always playing with a serious injury. Both can be top receivers, but I think Jones’s injury record will stop him from reaching his potential.
4. Are the Bengals moving in the right direction?
Ben Bergin, CM Bengals Blog: To paraphrase Gordon Gekko: Green is good. Youth, athleticism, and an underdog attitude will suit the Bengals quite nicely.
Sridhar Pappu, CM Bengals Blog: Well, we’re starting over, aren’t we? For everyone clamoring about Carson Palmer leaving, remember his record was 4-12 as a starter in 2010. This team needed to be blown up. No Chad. No Carson. No T.O. No Brat. I just don’t know if they went far enough. This will be painful.
Josh Kirkendall, Cincy Jungle: There are a lot of aspects that you have to like about this team, especially considering the Bengals finally removed stale components to an offense that slowly deteriorated beginning with Carson Palmer’s elbow injury in 2008. Extending the contracts of two foundation players in cornerback Leon Hall and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth spoke volumes to other players. They also extended center Kyle Cook, who might not be the great Rich Braham, but is solid in his own right. What’s really generating enthusiasm is their direction away from star players to a blue-collar group of guys— a good mix of rookies and veterans who actually want to be here.
C. Byers, Stripe Hype: When the Bengals are ranked 122 of 122 sports franchises, they can only move up, right? The Bengals seemed to have learned a lesson from Antonio Bryant and have already voided contracts of two free agents not passing physicals. The team has their next franchise quarterback and wide receiver already on hand. They’re at least trying to better themselves long term.
5. Will Marvin Lewis be the Bengals coach for the first game of the 2012 season?
Ben Bergin, CM Bengals Blog: I think so. If 2008 didn’t do it, and 2010 didn’t do it, then—with a rookie quarterback, offensive coordinator, and wide receiver as a cushion—provided the Bengals don’t achieve negative wins this season…He’ll be OK.
Sridhar Pappu, CM Bengals Blog: If Lewis wasn’t let go after a 4-12 season, I can’t see Mike Brown letting him go after this one. If he shows enough improvement from four wins, he’ll definitely be back. If anything Mike Brown is loyal. Sometimes (Read: Shula, David) it’s to the wrong people.
Josh Kirkendall, Cincy Jungle: Yes. Mike Brown signed him to a two-year deal several months ago. A little history provides interesting context. The Bengals tried to extend Lewis as far back as October 2010, but he refused. And he kept refusing because he wanted stipulations met that would grant him increased authority, which you would have to assume he received. The only way Lewis doesn’t coach the Bengals at this point next year is if he quits in the hopes of finding a new job. But Carson Palmer can tell you how well that worked.
C. Byers, Stripe Hype: I think he will be. Marvin seems to have won over the front office. Fans may disagree, but the Bengals need Marvin as the head coach during this rebuild. Brown has let Marvin make a lot of moves lately, and a new coach may return things to the dark ages.
6. What will the Bengals record be in 2011?
Ben Bergin, CM Bengals Blog: 10-6. Yep, I’m sticking with it.
Sridhar Pappu, CM Bengals Blog: Somehow, I think they can pull together six wins. Sadly, I’m going to probably watch all 10 of those losses. The fact that I’m expecting more out of Northwestern football this season speaks volumes.
Josh Kirkendall, Cincy Jungle: 6-10.
C. Byers, Stripe Hype: I never like guessing without being sure, but to me the number is 5-11. I just have it stuck in my head that it’s 5-11, give or take a win.