A season emerges and the picture slowly clears from the mist and smoke of thought, dream, and hope.
In 2010, there were changes in the air.
A recession had ended and so too, for a city known as a Queen hope renewed of a lingering past two decades removed.
The ghosts of the 1988 team dubbed by NFL Films as the Kings of the Queen City hover over the foundation of Riverfront Stadium—a ghostly industrial cathedral no more.
In modern and shaply jagged beauty cuts the glass like gladiator's ring known as Paul Brown Stadium.
2010 will be known for many reasons as a defining moment for the Bengals and the Bengals' management, players, and the city which has suffered greatly to emerge so strong.
With the buzz of triumph coarsing through the air like the electricity before a storm, the 2010 Bengals' season sits on the horizon with questions at the peak.
A season defined by playoff ghosts from seasons past.
Jets, Saints, Ravens, Chargers, Colts, and Patriots will all be formidable.
The punishment for success is that the successful must battle in season to achieve the following season. For the Bengals, the blessing of being the AFC North champion is the curse of an unforgiving schedule.
Yet, the Bengals in 2010 will be defined by the true test of playing champions and define the team by playing like champions against champions.
To determine if he can truly fill the legacy of the Brown family, Mike Brown's arguably last chance will come in 2010.
Last season gave Bengals' fans a glimpse of the human side of Mike Brown. The offseason brought a suprisingly aggressive effort to solidify the team.
Brown wants a championship, Cincinnati wants a championship. More importantly, Bengals' players and fans want to believe they are champions.
To feel at the top, starts from the top. The leader will captain the ship or sink it back into the abyss.
The key to the offense this year will be another offensive-based player.
Jermaine Gresham will play, but his ability to contribute early will be marked by when training with the team begins.
With the fourth most difficult schedule and with whispers of Gresham being the next Antonio Gates, will the Bengals management remember the business acumen of short term loss versus long term gains?
Possibly Katie Blackburn could answer this question by moving forward without the negotiated frustration which played out on HBO last season.
If Gresham signs early, expect early success. If late, expect a tough start.
With memories of Bengals' greats such as Collinsworth and thoughts towards durable players like Wes Welker of New England, Jordan Shipley's value continues to soar as the season approaches.
Ever the under estimated fifth-year senior at Texas, Shipley will emerge his rookie season as the underappreciated but expected contributor who makes the difference.
The image of an optimistic smile was replaced by an inept holdout.
Giggling more than a cup of jello, Andre Smith cast doubts on if he will be as productive as his perceived appetite.
Fans and coaches alike will be short on patience and expecting results—with pessimism—as the 2009 first-round draft pick either emerges or injures not only himself physical but his image and optimistic support.
Protecting the quarterback will start and end with Smith protecting his interests as a player before his appetite as a person.
The marketing genius has replaced the spoiled child in Chad.
New names and new attitudes have prevailed with Mike Brown's management of retaining the Ocho through at least next season.
As Chad grows his empire off the field, he will expect more from his quarterback in leading the Bengals towards the new and improved passing regimen.
If maturity prevails, OchoCinco will make entertainment prevail from the end zone, if not, anarchy will ensue.
The peak has come and the land is laid out from the top for a quarterback to see.
While Palmer has been in doubt—a doubt casted by circumstances related to injuries—Palmer's career will either breakout to the next level or climax in a fizzle similar to a failed, but powerful firework.
The future is now for Carson: he will have the tools, he will have the protection, now he will need to push the team forward as he did before.
What about Bob? He has never quite been able to create an offense that truly went through an entire season intact.
Be it Carson Palmer going down to injury or wide receivers plaguing the team with issues—be it injury or behavior—the point where Bob starts and the team starts has never been clear.
Yet, this season will be the closest Bratkowski has come to a complete squad emerging into his tenth season.
For Bob, the answer to the question about him is: will he prove he is a capable offensive coordinator, a manager, a guideline? Or will Bob be inept and simply unable to coordinate an offense of greater dimensions than one?
To cringe does not even begin to tell the story of the last team with so much promise and yet so many maturity issues.
The 2007 season will be remembered for so much potential and so little results as the Brady bunch picture of arrested players fills the screen.
Will the time between games be for recovery or reckless behavior?
If to the negative, expect another let down. If community oriented, expect the emergence of a class act team.
At the climax of the 2010 season is Week 12, which starts the cascade of playoff teams.
The Jets will be a formidable team—certainly much more formidable than last season's late bloomers.
The Bengals will need this game to be a victory at some level: either morally or actually. Momentum will be needed and the New Meadowlands will be the place to build strength over last season's adversity.