Sometime during my high school years, let’s say 2000, ESPN took a poll on the worst professional franchises to play for.
At that time, if the Cincinnati Bengals didn’t instantly pop into your mind, then there's a complete lack of brain activity taking place inside that thick skull of yours.
Imagine living in a city where everybody knows what game “the playoff game” refers to. Not only did the Bengals lose that game to the eventual Super Bowl champs, but they lost their star quarterback as well.
The notorious injury curse placed on Bengals’ draft picks is more coincidental than being chosen for the Madden cover. Ki-Jana Carter, Levi Jones, Chris Perry, Keith Rivers, and Carson Palmer are just a few former first-round picks to suffer career-altering injuries in their early careers.
It seems that “there’s always next year” is a city motto when it comes to the Bengals.
Well, next year has come, and after an interesting but solid draft, Bengals fans are starting to get hyped about a strong defense. The word around town is that the defense is going to be loaded, and this is the year they go back to the playoffs.
Hold on, Bengals fans! There are still some important things to remember before guaranteeing a playoff spot so quickly.
In 2009, they will get Palmer back behind center without Jones at left tackle or the ’08 starting right tackle, Stacy Andrews. Without Jones, expect Andrew Whitworth to see a lot of starts at left tackle with rookie tackle Andre Smith at the right tackle position.
That leaves Palmer behind an almost completely revamped offensive line that was less-than-decent last year.
The running game still leaves a lot of questions with Cedric Benson as the starter.
Benson quickly caught on to the running plan last year but was also haunted by poor blocking up the middle, which led to a mediocre 3.5 yards per carry.
At times last season, the O-line and Benson seemed in-sync and showed the ability to move the football down-field. On the other hand, the package showed the inability to gain one to two yards in desperate situations on countless occasions.
During a home game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Marvin Lewis refused to review a ball spot for a touchdown leading to 1st-and-goal inside the one. The Bengals proved football fans wrong going four-and-out and settling for a field goal.
Philadelphia and Cincinnati tied 13-13 in an overtime battle of two mistake-filled offenses on that windy day.
The Bengals’ offensive statistics further display why they only averaged 12.8 points per game, finishing four points behind the 0-16 Detroit Lions.
In 2008, Cincinnati averaged just over 15 first downs per game, ending up in front of the Lions, Cleveland Browns, and Oakland Raiders.
Even worse, they averaged a league-worst 245.4 yards per game. In comparison, the league-leading New Orleans Saints averaged just over 410 yards.
On the other hand, the defense showed continuous improvement throughout last season.
During the off season, the Bengals signed some new players that will further develop the team into a solid defensive group.
Tank Johnson will get the opportunity to emerge in a 4-3 defense where he consistently succeeded with the Chicago Bears.
Roy Williams will add another run defender to a defense that finished in the bottom half of rush defense in 2008 letting up about 120 yards per game. However, Williams has a knack to get burnt on deep routes and is much better in rush defense than defending the pass.
The linebacker corps should also help build on the average run defense from last season with the addition of star second round draft pick Rey Maualuga and the return of Keith Rivers, whose season was cut short from a bone-shattering (literally, as in jawbone shattering) block from Pittsburgh’s Hines Ward.
Cincinnati fans are already starting to rumble in the jungle about what the Bengals can do this year, and with the season only a few months away, there is a lot of work left to finish.
The Bengals have tell-tale signs of being a contender in the AFC North; however, with the first round injury curse and the overall nature of the Cincinnati "Bungles," it is always too early to tell with this franchise.
Assuming everything goes by without a glitch, my heart is set on the playoffs. On the other hand, ask Tom Brady if stuff always goes as planned.
For now, let’s hope Bengals’ players stay out of jail and off of the injury report. Cincinnati fans should be excited for what this season holds in store for them, but don’t get too excited just yet.