Preseason power rankings: No. 20

Remember, this process isn’t an attempt to predict where teams will finish, but to project the position from which they’re starting.

The Cincinnati Bengals could have a very big season, but if they do they’ll be digging out of a deep hole.

Last year’s 4-11-1 record (capped amazingly by three straight wins) was fueled by a serious problem with franchise quarterback Carson Palmer’s elbow, which required the Bengals to rely upon Ryan Fitzpatrick.

The running game was a revolving door, until the franchise known for second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth chances gave Cedric Benson a chance to make good on the potential that made him the fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft.

Though Palmer is healthy again, he might not be for long — if the reshuffled offensive line doesn’t pan out.  Tackles Levi Jones and Stacy Andrews are gone, with Andrew Whitworth sliding out on the left side, and Andre Smith eventually taking over the right, if/when he ever gets in football shape.

Tight end could be an issue, too, thanks to season-ending injuries to Reggie Kelly and Ben Utecht.

The defense is intriguing.  Last year, the Bengals quietly finished at No. 12 in yards allowed.  This year, it might be even better, especially with the addition of perennial Pro Bowl safety Roy Williams.

But the most compelling change, in our view, arises from the departure of receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and the replacement of him with Laveranues Coles, who might be better than his predecessor.

And perhaps most importantly, receiver Chad Ochocinco is rejuvenated.  Though it might not last, his positive attitude could spread to teammates, and he could have a big year after a major disappointment in 2008.

Still, it won’t be easy to climb to the top of a division that features both AFC finalists from a year ago, in a conference that remains extremely top heavy.

Key player:  Palmer.  To retain the title of franchise quarterback, Palmer needs to take this franchise to the playoffs — and win a playoff game.  It would be a great way to celebrate his 30th birthday on December 27.

Rookie to watch:  Smith.  The Bengals won the month-long standoff with Smith regarding his contract, but if it keeps him from contributing right away, have they really won anything?

Best veteran acquisition:  Coles.  He has been a quality No. 1 wideout despite so-so quarterbacking talent.  Across from Ochocinco, one or both of them will face single coverage — and will have a big year.

Key game:  Week Three, Pittsburgh.  To get to the playoffs, the Bengals need to master their division.  Knocking off the Steelers in late September would be a great start.

5 responses to “Preseason power rankings: No. 20

  1. This is one of the more reasonable accessments of the Bengals that I have read. Their season rests solely on the offense, with the line and hense Carson Palmer’s health the main concern.
    Just getting rid of Eric Ghiaucic at center from last year is an improvement. Levi Jones’ knee needed fat injections every game to cut the pain, and Andrews is gone in FA, who played like he didn’t want to be here.
    The Oline now consists of people motivated and healthy (with exception of Smith). They may not be the best group in the NFL, but they will play better than last year’s line. If Carson has time to throw deep, the safetys can’t crowd the line of scrimmage and will open up the running game. Opposing defenses will have to choose their poison. Other than tackle, TE is the weak spot on the team. They have great depth at the skill positions (WR and RB, and the backup QBs are better than last year).
    Truth is, they finally have a defense under Marvin Lewis. There is depth at defensive line, so they can run a rotation and wear out the opponent’s Oline. They have top corners and a line backer core that only neads seasoning. Depth at corner is the defense’s only weakness. It will be a top 10 defense.
    Finally, so far, Mike Brown hasn’t done something stupid to usurp Marvin Lewis’ authority, as he did last year with the re-signing of Chris Henry and cutting of Deltha Oneal, Willie Anderson, and Rudy Johnson for salary reasons. These latter cuts destroyed team morale and made a bad situation, worse.

  2. YES! congrats florio, your first correct ranking ever! ive been saying it for a while now, the bengals are way to underrated. a weak oline, yes, but theyve got 2 possibly 3 great wrs and a severly underrated back in benson, plus a franchise qb. the defense isnt too bad and with rey maualuga added, theyve got plenty of room for improvement, i say they go 8-8 or better…
    SAVE THIS POST, its gonna be a prophecy come true

  3. The Bengals could indeed become one of the more talked about teams after a quick start out of the gate.Weeks 3,4,5 are divisional and will determine the season for this franchise.

  4. The Bengals have an extremely easy schedule if you exclude the four games against Pittsburgh and Baltimore. I agree that they can easily be .500, but the Ravens and Steelers schedules are not that much more difficult. They may win 1 game at home against either the Steelers or Ravens, but that is it for those 2 teams. so again around .500, but third in the division missing the playoffs.

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