(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images
2008-2009 Record: 4-11-1 (1-5 AFC North)
2009-2010 Matchups: Week Five in Baltimore, 1PM; Week Nine in Cincinnati, 1PM
Offseason Changes: Lost OT Stacy Andrews, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh; added WR Laveranues Coles, QB J.T. O'Sullivan, P Ryan Plackemeier, S Roy Williams.
Draft picks: OT Andre Smith, LB Rey Maualuga, DE Michael Johnson, TE Chase Coffman.
All hope for a successful 2008-2009 season were lost early last fall with Carson Palmer's departure from the starting lineup due to an elbow injury.
Backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick took the reins, and quickly proved why he was listed second on the depth chart in the first place.
This season however, with a healthy Palmer and a few new faces around the locker room, there is hope for improvement.
The success of the offense will rest on the shoulders of two Bengals in particular, namely RB Cedric Benson and WR Chad Ochocinco.
Benson, a first round pick in the 2005 draft, has yet to have the kind of season that won him All-America status and the Doak Walker award in his senior season at Texas.
He had just over 200 carries last season for less than 800 yards and found the endzone only twice; however, he has shown steady progress the last three years and, if the pattern holds, will only continue to improve this season.
Likewise, Ochocinco hopes to return to Pro Bowl form following the departure of T.J. Houshmandzadeh to the Seattle Seahawks.
Ochocinco's production dipped to just 53 catches for 540 yards and four touchdowns last season (largely because of inept quarterbacking), but in the two years prior to last year's campaign, he averaged 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns, a mark he hopes to replicate this season.
On defense, Cincinnati will look to its strong group of linebackers to maintain control on the field.
Dhani Jones is coming off a banner season, and he will team with rookie Rey Maualuga to control the second level.
Newly acquired veteran safety Roy Williams should bring stability to a secondary that has missed it since the depart of Madieu Williams to the Vikings in 2008.
Although the Bengals play a 4-3 defense, they appear to be building an agile personnel set capable of playing in a 3-4 scheme as well, as seen by their new-found depth at linebacker and the acquisition of physical freak Michael Johnson in this year's draft.
Marvin Lewis is a defensive whiz, having won a Super Bowl as the coordinator for the Ravens back in 2000-2001, so he may give Baltimore problems if he unveils a previously unseen defensive package.
Player Battles to Watch:
1) Ravens WR Derrick Mason vs. Bengals S Roy Williams
Williams won't be playing Mason man-to-man most of the time, but you can be sure that words will be exchanged in whatever interaction they have on the field.
Both are tough, wily and relentless, and both have something to prove. Williams will try and re-establish himself as the feared tackler he once was in Dallas, and Mason will do his best to perform at a high level in spite of his aging body.
Don't expect any punches to be pulled by either one.
2) Ravens DE Haloti Ngata/LB Tavares Gooden vs. Bengals OT Andrew Whitworth
Whitworth is 6'7", 330 pounds. Ngata is 6'4", 340 pounds. Need any more be said?
If Whitworth isn't stymied by the sheer force of Ngata's frame driving against his own, he'll have a difficult time adjusting to the speed of a blitzing Gooden, who some are already comparing to Ray Lewis himself.
Look for Baltimore's pass rush to put pressure on Palmer all game long.