2012 NFL Previews: Tampa Bay Bucs| Indianapolis Colts | New England Patriots | Seattle Seahawks |Minnesota Vikings | St. Louis Rams |Cleveland Browns | Arizona Cardinals | San Diego Chargers | Atlanta Falcons | Chicago Bears | Oakland Raiders | Carolina Panthers
The Cincinnati Bengals were one of the surprise teams of the 2011 season. Many were predicting disaster as the team turned to 2nd round rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and top pick A.J. Green on offense. Instead, they managed to get into the playoffs at 9-7, after trading away unhappy Carson Palmer to the Raiders and getting a first round pick out of the deal.
How much did Cincinnati really improve, though? Looking at the last three seasons, when Cincinnati has bounced from 10 wins and a division title, to 4 wins, back to 9 wins, it would seem they have been on quite the roller coaster ride. In truth, they have been close to an average team all three years, with the differences entirely explained by schedule and close game results.
Last year, Cincinnati made the playoffs despite being 0-7 against teams that reached the tournament. They beat the bad teams and won close games against non-playoff teams. To illustrate the impact of schedule, last year’s Bengals were 2-8 against the top 20 teams in simple rating system. The year before, when they only won 4 games, they were 3-11 against the top 20 teams.
Cincinnati’s performance last year was notable because it happened with a rookie quarterback. It was not, however, a huge breakout once we strip away the scheduling and luck effects. They are a lot closer to average, and the questions now are how much they can actually improve, and whether injuries are going to sap them.
Last year, they were fairly healthy. So far this year, they have lost offensive lineman Travelle Wharton already, and have one of the longer injury lists (at least among starters and top rotation guys) entering the year. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap is battling a knee injury, Leon Hall is still bothered by an Achilles injury, and Robert Geathers and Jermaine Gresham are both questionable for the opener. The schedule doesn’t appear imposing, though gone is the NFC West, replaced by the NFC East. Andy Dalton is likely a candidate for criticism if he doesn’t build on the team success from last year.
There are reasons for optimism, led by A.J. Green and some quality young defenders in the front seven and with Leon Hall if he can get healthy, to go with Dre Kirkpatrick. Question marks also exist, particularly at the other receiver spot, safety with Taylor Mays, and whether Benjarvus Green-Ellis will appear very pedestrian away from the Patriots’ offense. Cincinnati feels like an average team to me, the kind that can make the playoffs again with the right breaks, and who should be involved in close games on a frequent basis. I’m just not sure they can count on all the breaks going their way in 2012.
[photo via US Presswire]