Fine-tuning Bengals hope to shed playoff bust label
LB J.Harrison, LB A.Maybin
LB M.Lawson, RB B.Leonard,
DT P.Sims, QB B.Gradkowski
It's a hard knock life for the Cincinnati Bengals. Well it has been come playoff time.
The Bengals reached the playoffs for the second straight year in 2012 beating the Steelers in the final week to finish second in the AFC North with a 10-6 record. But, for the second straight year they were promptly bounced from the playoffs in the wildcard round by Houston.
This year, the Bengals agreed to be the focus of HBO's "Hard Knocks" for the second time. It's a completely different Bengals team now than the one last featured in 2009. Then again, that team also made it to the post-season with a 10-6 record and fell flat in the first round.
The Bengals return nearly their entire roster from last year's playoff team and added former Steelers linebacker James Harrison with the hopes of finally shedding the playoff underachiever moniker.
Conitnuity and Growth
The Bengals are counting on Andy Dalton to make the leap from promising young quarterback to true franchise quarterback.
He's already the first Bengals quarterback to lead the team to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons. He has 47 touchdown passes so far in his career which puts him behind only Dan Marino and Peyton Manning for the most ever in a quarterback's first two NFL seasons. Not bad.
The big red flags on Dalton's resume to this point though are the two playoff duds. Two losses, no touchdown passes, four interceptions and a woeful 48.6 passer rating.
The Bengals are hoping that the additions of versatile tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard can help Dalton take the passing game to another level this season.
Dalton already had one of the best receivers in the game in A.J. Green but the team didn't really have a reliable second option for him. Eifert is listed as a tight end but can line up anywhere and could become a go to possession receiver while Bernard has great hands out of the backfield.
The Bengals really like Bernard as a runner as well. He will get lots of opportunities in the backfield alongside incumbent starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis and could supplant the Law Firm as the Bengals No.1 by season's end.
The Bengals also feature a top-ten offensive line leading the way for Dalton and the running backs. Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith give them one of the best sets of tackles in the NFL. The only real question mark on the line is at centre where both Kyle Cook and Trevor Robinson are a tad underwhelming.
Taken as a whole, this is an offence that should improve this season and could make it into the top-10. (-TSN.ca)
Will Harrison Fit In?
After years of having to scheme against former defensive player of the year James Harrison, the Bengals decided to sign the veteran linebacker this off-season.
In his prime, Harrison was one of the most dominant pass rushers in the NFL. He has lost a step or so due to injuries in the last few seasons but the Bengals still think he will be an effective addition.
Harrison will have to play in coverage a little more in the Bengals 4-3 system than he did in Pittsburgh which doesn't really play to Harrison's strengths. Still, his leadership and ability to get to the quarterback should help a Bengals defence that was quietly very good last season be even better this season.
AFC NORTH PROJECTIONS
Division Winner, solid season
5th in AFC, wildcard berth
6th in AFC, wildcard berth
Almost there, but tough division
One of the main reasons the defence was so good last season and will be again this year was the play of the Bengals' underrated defensive line anchored by tackle Geno Atkins. The Bengals defensive line racked up 40 of a team record 51 sacks last year.
Atkins, a Pro Bowl starter last year, had 12.5 of those sacks by himself and may very well be the best defensive tackle in the game right now.
Forgot about Dre
2012 first rounder Dre Kirkpatrick had a rookie season to forget. He hurt his knee during pre-season workouts, missed all of training camp and the first seven games of the season. He played in just five games before a concussion and more knee problems ended a very disappointing first year in the pros.
His knee is fully healed though and Kirkpatrick is ready to prove himself. He entered this year's camp low on the Bengals' depth chart but has shown significant improvement from last year and could eventually work his way up to a starting role opposite Leon Hall.
For the time being though, it looks like Hall and Terrence Newman will be the team's starters.
At safety, 2013 third round pick Shawn Williams looks likely to start next to Reggie Nelson. Williams is an aggressive player with a very good feel for the game.
What It All Means
All in all, there is little reason to think this Bengals team won't be at least as good as they were last season. But this season isn't about being as good for Cincinnati; it's about winning in the playoffs. To do that, they'll need Dalton to take his career to the next level.
Expect the Bengals to be back in the post-season and if Baltimore falters with the loss of Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin, don't be surprised if Cincy wins the division. (-TSN.ca)
Special Teams: K M. Nugent, P K. Huber, KR B. Tate, PR A. Jones
Special Teams: K M. Nugent, P K. Huber, KR B. Tate, PR A. Jones
Fantasy - By The Numbers
QB Andy Dalton made progress in his second season, passing for 3,669 yards and 27 touchdowns, but it's still not enough to warrant anything more than fantasy backup status at this point. That he has WR A.J. Green (1,350 yards, 11 touchdowns last season) as his primary weapon sure helps, but the rest of the Bengals' attack is only so-so.
Get ready for the fantasy season with the latest from TSN.ca.
Rankings: QB | RB | WR | TE | DEF
Fantasy Schedules: AFC | NFC
2013 Auction Values: Cheat Sheet
Fantasy Depth Charts: AFC | NFC
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for a career-high 1,094 yards last season, but his touchdowns dropped; not quite as many opportunities to score for the Bengals, compared to his previous couple seasons with the Patriots. TE Jermaine Gresham had a career-best 737 yards last season, but the Bengals also used a first-round pick on TE Tyler Eifert, who could be a productive receiver in his own right, so it's difficult to get too excited about any of the Bengals' offensive options aside from Green.
They do, however, offer some fine defensive value, as DT Geno Atkins may be the best interior pass rusher, with 12.5 sacks last season, while ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson have pass-rush skills too. Their linebackers and defensive backs aren't bad, productive enough to be considered, but their projected value isn't enough to go beyond a depth role in most fantasy leagues. (-Scott Cullen)