The AFC North might not be the best division in the NFL but it’s certainly one of the toughest. Playing Pittsburgh and Baltimore twice a year is enough to make any team battle-hardened.
Marvin Lewis did an amazing job leading his team to a division title following a 10-6 season marred by tragedy with the deaths of receiver Chris Henry and Vikki Zimmer, wife of Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer. For his efforts, Lewis was named 2009 NFL AP Coach of the Year.
With a few upgrades at key positions, Cincinnati is primed to make a run at the AFC Championship in 2010.
Carson Palmer’s window of playing in his prime is shrinking and besides Chad Ochocinco and a dependable running game, he needs more weapons.
Chase Coffman is a decent receiving option but the Bengals are becoming a more balanced running team with the steady play of Cedric Benson. With that, Coffman is somewhat of a liability as a blocker and Cincinnati needs a tough, sure-handed tight end to give Palmer a checkdown option.
The Lavernaues Coles experiment hasn’t gone according to plan and Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell are both quick, potentially solid, slot receivers and depth options.
Mike Zimmer is assembling an aggressive, opportunistic defense along with a tough-minded mentality.
Dhani Jones has been steady but he’s entering his 10th season and is on the wrong side of 30. He still has another year, at least, though before Rey Maualuga moves over from the strongside linebacker position.
Both cornerback spots are set with the emergence of Jonathon Joseph and Leon Hall. Joseph enjoyed his best season to date with six picks in ’09. Hall, the Bengals other 25-year old corner also had his best year, grabbing six interceptions and forcing two fumbles.
Taking Michael Johnson in the third round of the 2009 draft may turn out to be one of the true steals of that draft. He had three sacks during his rookie season and at 6’7” with excellent speed, Johnson might be a pass-rushing terror in the AFC North for years to come.
Roy Williams and his fragile forearm were a big disappointment and he’s not going to garner much attention in free agency. Both safety positions are the weakest parts of the Bengals defense.