Over the last couple of seasons, speculation around Cincinnati has been that the Bengals are well on their way to the Super Bowl in the coming years. They are being viewed as, potentially, the next big AFC threat.
However, disappointing ends to the last two seasons call that sort of speculation into question. Both of the past two seasons ended on incredibly sour notes, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
With a lot of pieces in place to build with, the Bengals can complete their blueprint towards AFC supremacy this offseason.
So what is necessary in order to accomplish that goal? Here is a blueprint for a Cincinnati Bengals Super Bowl run in 2013.
The fans, the experts, the critics, and the ESPN analysts can all talk as much as they want about how "successful" the Bengals' 2012 draft was.
You won't convince me, though.
Picks spent on Brandon Thompson, Orson Charles, and Dan Herron were wastes, to say the least, and I'm not convinced that Devon Still was worth the pick. While these are guys with some quality, there was no reason for Cincinnati to waste picks on things they didn't need.
There are still a lot of people who seem to think that they should select a defensive end in the upcoming draft, but why? Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson are already two of the league's best ends, with some help from Robert Geathers.
Don't waste picks on what you don't need!
Stick to the inside linebacker, running back, guard, and safety positions that you need. Fill those needs to satisfaction first, and make stupid picks after.
I am all for rebuilding a team through the draft and developing the talent, but it seems so rare that Cincinnati does much in free agency.
Is it financially smart to be cautious with free agents? Absolutely, but with some motivation, star-fire power can come to Cincinnati.
I'm not at all implying that they should go out and grab a Michael Vick or a Darrelle Revis, but with running backs like Reggie Bush and LeGarrette Blount heading to free agency, why not add someone with some experience to run with BenJarvus Green-Ellis?
This would prevent them from having to use a high-round pick on a running back, allowing the team to address more necessary issues. After a year of Green-Ellis and (insert name), the fourth or fifth round pick they get could take over.
It's a good thing to get some veteran experience on a team.
I could also include Terence Newman in this slide, but it would be worth it to keep him around as a mentor of sorts for Dre Kirkpatrick.
I won't waste much time on Taylor Mays. The former USC Trojan has been awful in the NFL and has proven, time and time again, that he isn't right for the game between the ears. He is an incredibly ineffective safety and doesn't need to be in black and orange anymore.
As for Nate Clements, the guy is just past his prime, unable to keep up with the guys he used to be able to cover masterfully. He was moved to safety because of injuries in 2012, so he was at a disadvantage, but even in 2011, you could see that his best years were clearly behind him.
Getting a top-notch free safety and perhaps a mid-to-late round cornerback in the draft would make it easier for Cincinnati to let the veteran leave the Queen City.
Cincinnati has a lot of issues in the middle of their defense, and the beginning of that issue is Rey Maualuga. Houston exploited his inability to cover the pass in the Wild Card game against the Bengals, and they made it clear that it was time for Maualuga to go.
That's why the first pick for Cincinnati should be centered on the top available inside linebacker, and my hope is that that man is going to be Georgia standout, Alec Ogletree.
We'll see more from Ogletree when it comes time for the combine, but it's worth pointing out that he was actually recruited to Georgia as a safety. Due to his size, he was moved to linebacker and he used his incredible speed and power to dominate the position.
Getting a linebacker who can blitz and drop back into coverage is key for Cincinnati. We all watched in horror as Owen Daniels stayed wide open all game against the Bengals in the aforementioned playoff game. Ogletree wouldn't allow that to happen.
Last offseason, this was a position that was being battled for by Brandon Tate and Armon Binns. I criticized both of those guys, saying that neither of them were capable of excelling at the position.
I love being right.
The guy that I eventually want to take over the position in 2013 is second year receiver, Mohamed Sanu. He showed a lot of promise when he got a few starts before being injured down the stretch.
Cincinnati needs another target for Andy Dalton because it's common knowledge now that A.J. Green is one of the league's best receivers. That means that he'll be double-covered every single game.
The Bengals need to find a solid No. 2 receiving option in 2013, whether that be Sanu, a free agent, or a new rookie.