Bengals fans cheer during a game last season.
At this time last year, Cincinnati Bengals fans were ready to riot. Fed up after a 4-12 season and upset at an apparent lack of direction by the front office, fans stayed away from Paul Brown Stadium by the droves, and most of the team’s home games were blacked out locally.
What a difference 12 months make. Fresh off a playoff appearance and one of the youngest, most exciting teams in the league, there's plenty to look forward to this year.
What follows is five reasons why Cincinnati Bengals fans should be excited about the 2012 season.
Quarterback Andy Dalton
The most impressive part of Cincinnati’s 2011 run to the playoffs was the fact that nearly all of the Bengals’ key players were in their first three years in the league. From quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green, both rookies, to others such as Rey Maualuga, Leon Hall, Andre Smith, Jermaine Gresham, Geno Atkins and Pat Sims are just entering their primes.
It’s more than reasonable to expect those young players to only get better and give the Bengals one of the deepest—and still youngest—rosters in the league.
Defensive End Carlos Dunlap
Much of that young talent is on the defensive side of the football, and most of them are already coming into their prime.
The defensive line, anchored by veteran Domata Peko and supplemented by youngsters Geno Atkins, Pat Sims, Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap, gave the Bengals a unit that was equally adept at rushing the passer as it was stuffing the run. Linebackers Thomas Howard, Manny Lawson and Rey Maualuga were tackling machines and proved to be a smart, solid unit.
The secondary is still an issue, but corners Leon Hall, Nate Clements and Dre Kirkpatrick give the Bengals a unit that should more than hold its own.
The Cincinnati Bengals hosted the Denver Broncos on Monda Night Football in 2004
A season after not playing a single regular-season game in prime time, the Bengals get three in 2012 including an appearance on Monday Night Football in the season opener. It is the first time since 2007 that Cincinnati will get as many as three prime-time games, and the team could possibly get a fourth if a late-season game is flexed into the Sunday Night Football slot.
The night-time games mean more than later starts to the tailgating parties; it means that executives with both the NFL and the networks believe that this Bengals team is worth watching.
Prime-time games are all about ad sales and ratings, and if the suits believe people will watch, they’re more than happy to put you on the schedule. If the TV people are excited about the Bengals, so should the fans.
Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown watches minicamp on Friday, May 11.
Sure, the Bengals still don’t have an indoor facility, but in the last two years, owner Mike Brown has ditched an offensive coordinator who was universally loathed by the fanbase, he has hired two full-time scouts and even took a guard in the first round for the first time in team history.
There has been much speculation as to what has caused the change, from Brown getting the hint from the fans’ protest a year ago to simply allowing coach Marvin Lewis to make more decisions.
Of course, if you ask Brown, he’ll probably just say it’s business as usual. Whatever the reason, the team appears to be better off for it.
The Cincinnati Bengals' A.J. Green.
We covered the Bengals’ young players in Reason No. 1, but A.J. Green deserves his own category.
All he did in his first year in the league was catch 65 passes for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns and became the first rookie receiver since Anquan Boldin in 2003—and first rookie Bengal receiver since Cris Collinsworth in 1981—to be voted to the Pro Bowl.
He is a combination of all the best qualities of the best wideouts the Bengals have had, from Chad Johnson’s big-play ability to Isaac Curtis’ athleticism to Collinsworth’s demeanor.
The sky's the limit for the spectacular Green, who may be the best receiver in the league by the end of this season and could become one of the best receivers in the history of the game by the time he's done.