We’re still a few months away before the start of the NFL regular season, but if you’re a Cincinnati Bengals fan, you’ve got to be excited for things to come.
The Bengals are coming off back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in more than 20 years and for the fifth year in a row, they have garnered one of the best drafts in the league.
Add that both Pittsburgh and defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore are a year older and you can see why Bengal fans across Who Dey Nation have reason to believe they can make a deep run into the post-season.
But first things first, Cincinnati will enter the season with some questions and it’s time for me to address some of them.
No. 1 — Can Marvin Lewis get this team over the hump?
The 2013 campaign will mark Lewis’ 11th as head coach and he’s also posted the most wins (76) in franchise history, but with that said, many question if he can lead Cincinnati to a playoff win. I’m one of those skeptics and I’m not really sure. If Lewis was head coach of a lot of other teams in the league, I’m not too sure he’d still be around, but Owner Mike Brown likes what he sees with Lewis and has faith, but me on the otherhand, I’m not too sure. He’s never won a playoff game (0-4) and his overall record of 76-85-1 isn’t that good.
No. 2 — Is Andy Dalton the answer at quarterback?
That’s another good question and I’m leaning to the ‘wait and see’ side of things for this year only. To his credit, Dalton has guided the Bengals to two consecutive playoff appearances during his first two years behind center while having a quarterback rating average of 83.9, which isn’t too bad. He’s thrown for 7,067 yards, 47 touchdowns and 29 interceptions, but it’s his play in the post-season that concerns me. In last year’s playoff loss to Houston, Dalton completed only 14-of-30 pass attempts for 127 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. His quarterback rating was 44.9. That’s not good, folks. Heck, standout receiver A.J. Green wasn’t even targeted until the second half, but I don’t know whether to blame Dalton or offensive coordinator Jay Gruden for that. But back to Dalton’s playoff performances — during his rookie season in the post-season against Houston, Dalton had a 51.4 quarterback rating while connecting on 27-of-42 pass attempts for 257 yards no touchdowns and three interceptions. So no, I’m not sold on Dalton yet. This is his make it or break it season.
No. 3 — Will Jermaine Gresham ever live up to his hype?
He better or he might lose his starting job to rookie Tyler Eifert. Gresham and Eifert have a chance to be one of the deadliest tight end duos in the league, but Gresham must live up to his end of the bargain and during his first two seasons, I don’t believe he has. Sure he has put up some good numbers, but he doesn’t have breakaway speed and has had too many important drops in important games. But this season, I believe things are going to change. Cincinnati has a lot of weapons on the offensive side of things and can do some damage.
No. 4 — How important is the addition of rookie running back Giovani Bernard?
Very. The Bengals really haven’t had a potent one-two punch in the backfield since the days of Elbert ‘Ickey’ Woods and the speedy James Brooks. Those two helped guide Cincinnati to an AFC championship along with an appearance in Super Bowl XXIII in 1988 and Bernard and Benjarvus Green-Ellis have the ability to do the same.
Many believed the Bengals needed to draft Eddie Lacy, but Cincinnati needs speed in the backfield and they’ve got it in Bernard.
No. 5 — Just how tough is this year’s schedule?
It’s tough, very tough, but you know what, if you’re going to be an elite team, you’re going to have to beat the Green Bays and New Englands. The Bengals have that opportunity this season. Their first three games are against Chicago, Pittsburgh and Green Bay. If they come out of that three-game span with an 0-3 mark, making a third straight playoff appearance will be tough. If they go 2-1, I’ll be happy, but if they go 3-0, folks we could have a team that can make a deep playoff run.
So what’s going to happen? Give me until the end of August and I’ll let you know.