The Cincinnati Bengals Are Going to the Playoffs and They Deserve Your Respect

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The Cincinnati Bengals Are Going to the Playoffs and They Deserve Your Respect
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Ladies and gentlemen, the bandwagon for the most underrated and dangerous team in the NFL is filling up.

Seats are going fast. If you want to reserve a spot, now is the time. Once the season starts, we'll certainly have reached full capacity.

And no, you can't drive. That job belongs to me, and I'm holding onto the wheel with a death grip. That's how good I feel about them.

The team I'm talking about hasn't been the topic of much discussion this offseason, despite their recent success. In fact, it's fair to say that, out of the four teams in their division, this team has received the least hype, and I don't understand why.

I'm talking about Marvin Lewis, Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals.

No, seriously. I am.

There isn't a team in the league I'm more excited for than the Bengals. 

Yes, I'm as shocked to have written that as you are to have read it.

But, I can't help myself. I've got Bengal Fever.

And if there's something wrong with crushing on the 2013 Bengals, I don't want to be right.

Despite back-to-back trips to the postseason, the Bengals are flying under the radar. I'm here to change that.

You might be wondering when I was struck with the affliction of Bengal Fever. It happened during April's NFL draft.

Bengals owner Mike Brown, whose sudden transformation into a maestro of the draft would be akin to Lindsay Lohan one day winning an Oscar, once again slammed the team's selections out of the park. For a team that has drafted poorly more often than not in the last 20-plus years, it's been a stunning revival.

With their first two picks, the Bengals selected Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert (No. 21) and North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard (No. 37). 

Wow.

Now, I thought Dalton was absolutely atrocious in last year's 20-13 Wild Card Round loss at Houston. If he had played even an average game, the Bengals would have won. I believed that surrounding Dalton with more playmakers on offense was the answer to getting Cincinnati over the hump and out of the first round of the tournament.

The picks of Eifert and Bernard are huge for Dalton and the Bengals offense.

Imagine that you're Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, who will one day be a head coach in the NFL. Last year, his offense was pretty one-note: Hand the ball off to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, throw the rock to A.J. Green. Now, he has significant options.

Green is an absolute star, already ranking as one of the best receivers in football despite only having two seasons under his belt. When you can add Eifert, a stud in the passing game, to last year's third-round pick Mohamed Sanu, another first-round tight end in Jermaine Gresham, and the speedy and elusive Andrew Hawkins operating out of the slot, you have the recipe for a potentially devastating aerial assault.

Plus, Bernard will provide a terrific and much-needed compliment to Green-Ellis, adding more pop and sizzle to an offense in desperate need of both.

The team also made a very smart decision in re-signing tackle Andre Smith, who's provided terrific support along the offensive line.

While I was very down on Dalton after the playoff loss in Houston, I believe he's in for a monster season. He showed me something last year when he led the Bengals to a Week 16 triumph in Pittsburgh, which both qualified the Bengals for the postseason and eliminated the hated Steelers from tournament contention. In my opinion, Dalton has "magic," an idea I've discussed in previous columns.

Now, he has the weapons to put together a truly impressive statistical campaign and reach his full potential.

Then, there's the team's solid and underrated defense, led by coordinator Mike Zimmer, who will one day be a head coach in the NFL (recognizing a theme?). The unit finished sixth overall in total defense last year, and had the third-most sacks in the NFL (51).

Defensive tackle Geno Atkins is one of the best players in football, regardless of position. Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap provide pass-rushing aplomb at defensive end. Vontaze Burfict was a revelation at linebacker in 2012, and the secondary is underrated.

I loved the team's third and fourth selections in the draft, where they picked SMU defensive end Margus Hunt (No. 53) and Georgia safety Shawn Williams (No. 84). Both will provide depth and playmaking ability.

I have to admit that I'm not particularly in love with Lewis as a head coach, but his staff, with two future head coaches (Gruden and Zimmer), is strong enough to make up for his deficiencies. 

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
The Bengals will be better than the Steelers in 2013.

Take a look at the AFC North. The Ravens will likely return to the postseason again, but it remains to be seen if their 2013 iteration will be as good as the one that won a Super Bowl in 2012. The Browns employ Brandon Weeden at the quarterback position, which I believe disqualifies them from serious contention. The Steelers are an aging team on the downswing, and I believe their aforementioned, Week 16 home loss to Dalton and the Bengals is an unfortunate harbinger of things to come.

Out of all the teams in that division, I'm most excited for Cincinnati.

In fact, in the AFC, I'll take the Bengals over every team but New England, Baltimore and Denver, and I only include the Ravens out of respect for John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco. I could easily see Cincinnati winning the AFC North.

Will the Bengals make the postseason again in 2013?

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Write it in stone. Sign it with blood. The Cincinnati Bengals are going to the playoffs, and they're winning at least one game once they get there.

There aren't many seats left on the bandwagon. It's time to hop aboard.

It's time to catch Bengal Fever. 

When the 2013 regular season ends, you'll thank me that you did.

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