2008 did little to remind Bengal fans of the anomaly that was the 2005 season, as the franchise became the butt of many jokes around the league in regards to their inability to stay out of the daily police blotter.
The season couldn't have started any worse for the Bengals than it did a year ago. The Bengals got a tough break with two of their first three games on the road against Baltimore and the defending World Champion Giants, and had a game with 2008's best overall team in the regular season, the Tennessee Titans, sandwiched in between.
Not to mention, the health of Carson Palmer gradually went from bad to worse, in the first two starts the Bengals most important player threw for 94 and 134 yards respectively, while posting ratings of 32 and 43 in each contest.
After tough losses on the road to the Giants, Browns and Cowboys - all games in which the Bengals had a shot to win - the Bengals would go on to start the 2008 season 0-8, before finally squeaking by the Jaguars in Week 9 for their first win of the year.
Behind the play of backup Ryan Fitzpatrick and free agent pick up Cedric Benson, the Bengals offense was never a threat to do much of anything. The star wide receiving tandem of T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Ochocinco would only be a solo performance as Houshmandzadeh still performed admirably in 2008, posting 92 receptions for 908 yards and 4 touchdowns while a disgruntled and seemingly disinterested Ochocinco would have his worst season since his rookie year, only posting 53 receptions for 540 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Bengals were actually not that bad a squad. The team posted a 12th overall defensive ranking in 2008, including the 15th overall ranking against the pass and a 21st overall ranking against the run.
With all of their struggles, the Bengals did manage to end the season on a three game winning streak to raise their record from 1-11-1 to their final tally of 4-11-1.
WR Laverneaus Coles (New York Jets)
S Roy Williams (Dallas)
DT Tank Johnson (Dallas)
QB JT O'Sullivan (San Francisco)
FB Brian Leonard (St. Louis)
WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Seattle)
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (Buffalo)
OT Stacy Andrews (Philadelphia)
C Eric Ghiaciuc (Kansas City)
OT Levi Jones (Cut)
LB Corey Mays (Kansas City)
RB Gary Russell (Oakland)
WR Glenn Holt (Minnesota)
OT Kirk Barton (Detroit)
1-6. Andre Smith, OT, Alabama
2-38. Rey Maualuga, ILB, USC
3-70. Michael Johnson, DE, Georgia Tech
4-98. Chase Coffman, TE, Missouri
4-106. Jonathan Luigs, C, Arkansas
5-142. Kevin Huber, P, Cincinnati
5-179. Morgan Trent, CB, Michigan
6-209. Bernard Scott, RB, Abilene Christian
7-215. Fui Vakapuna, FB, BYU
7-249. Clinton McDonald, DT, Memphis
7-252. Freddie Brown, WR, Utah
The biggest move the Bengals can hope for next year is the re-addition of franchise quarterback Carson Palmer to the starting lineup. Palmer will be without his favorite target T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who left in free agency to Seattle, so he will rely heavily on Chad Ochocinco to bounce back from his worst season as a pro.
The rushing attack will be paced by Cedric Benson, who finally showed flashes of what the Bears hoped they would get when they drafted him 4th overall in 2005. Kenny Watson will resume his role as the change of pace back and third down specialist.
Maybe the biggest moves of the offseason for the Bengals centered around their offensive line. The Bengals waived former first round pick Levi Jones and were not able to retain Stacy Andrews so in April they selected Andre Smith with their 6th overall pick in the 2009 Draft. Depending on how quickly Smith is able to sign a contract and get into camp, he should be the starting left tackle for the opener.
Defensively, two former Cowboys were brought on board to try and shore up weaknesses on an overall decent defense a year ago. Roy Williams will compete to be the starting safety and Tank Johnson will look to play as the teams starting defensive tackle. Michael Johnson, a third round pick out of Georgia Tech, could be a surprise on the Bengals defensive line as the teams pass rusher.
The draft also brought over USC sensation Rey Maualuga to be the teams middle linebacker, and he will be paired with 2008 first round pick and fellow Trojan alum Keith Rivers in the Bengals linebacking corps.
|Sun 9/20||at Green Bay|
|Sun 10/4||at Cleveland|
|Sun 10/11||at Baltimore|
|Sun 11/15||at Pittsburgh|
|Sun 11/22||at Oakland|
|Sun 12/13||at Minnesota|
|Sun 12/20||at San Diego|
|Sun 12/27||Kansas City|
|Sun 1/3||at NY Jets|
And while the 2009 season likely will not bring a playoff appearance, it could very well begin a transitional period for the Bengals who are slowly turning things around with their personnel.
All that said, two things the Bengals cannot afford will be the two things most people keep an eye on this season (and offseason for that matter as they are the featured franchise on HBO's Hard Knocks) - Carson Palmer's health, and whether or not he will be able to resume playing like he had made a name for, and the teams chemistry given the cast of characters on the roster.
Look for Palmer to stay on the field this year, but still struggle minus a consistent running attack, and for the chemistry of this team to become shaky as the year goes on. The Bengals may turn things around, but it will be another year before we really see the progress.
And for one Marvin Lewis—that one extra year may not happen.
Predicted Finish: 4-12, 4th AFC North