The 2010 NFL season kicks into full gear this afternoon, and I couldn't be more excited. With one game already in the books (New Orleans Saints 14, Minnesota Vikings 9,), Sunday is slated to carry 13 more games for our enjoyment.
Last season, the Cincinnati Bengals were on the verge of being taken seriously for the first since 2005. In 2005, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer had his knee blown out on the Bengals' first play of the playoffs by Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive tackle Kimo Von Oelhoffen. That moment seemed to send the Bengals spiraling off course for the later half of the decade.
The team played well enough to make the playoffs in 2009, but not well enough to escape the first round with a win.
At 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 12, the Bengals will look to begin their run to the Super Bowl with a week one win against the New England Patriots.
The wide receivers
In the offseason, the Bengals went out and got themselves high profile receiver Terrell Owens in free agency. Owens' age is becoming a factor (36 years old,) but his career numbers speak for themselves. He ranks third all-time in career receiving yards (14,951) and touchdowns (144.) Adding him to a roster that already includes Chad Ocho Cinco is a recipe for disaster for opposing secondaries.
They also picked up Texas receiver Jordan Shipley in the draft. He was quarterback Colt McCoy's favorite target in 2009, catching 89 passes for 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns, and looked great in the preseason. He's a pure route runner who has the luxury of playing out of the slot and seeing single coverage on almost every down, thanks to the duo of T.O. and Ocho Cinco soaking up most of the double teams.
On top of all the receivers they'll have running wild, running back Cedric Benson bolsters the backfield. After failing to ever live up to the hype of being a first round pick for the Chicago Bears, the Bengals took a chance on him in the 2008 season.
It looked like a bad decision at first, but that move would prove to pay off for Cincinnati in 2009. Benson had the best season of his career, rushing for 1,251 yards and 6 touchdowns in only 13 games. He finally looked like the running back that many thought he was when he came out of Texas. He doesn't catch a lot of balls out of the backfield, but with all the receiving threats that this team has, he doesn't need to.
To lighten the load for Benson, second year back Bernard Scott will need to step up his game in his second year with the team. He was productive in the return game in 2009, averaging 31.5 yards per on 16 returns. He also averaged 4.3 yards per carry in limited action. In week two of the 2010 preseason he showed potential, rushing for 65 yards on eight carries. He also had a reception that went for 46 yards in that game.
The Offensive Line
Of course, we all know that games are won and lost at the point of attack. As far as the offensive line goes, so will the Cincinnati Bengals offense. As a unit, the Bengals line was in the top-10 in sacks allowed (ninth) and hits allowed on the quarterback (sixth.)That being said, this group still needs to improve the amount of time they give Carson Palmer to throw.
They weren't quite as solid in run blocking. Bengals backs averaged a run-of-the-mill 4.2 yards per carry. That was only good enough to rank 19th in the league in that department.
Second year tackle Andre Smith began to look solid at the end of the 2009 season, but is not expected to start today against the Patriots. As a first round pick last year, he'll be expected to contribute consistently as the season progresses. He'll eventually be starting opposite Andre Whitworth.
Whitworth is the anchor of this unit at left tackle. He gave up only 1.5 sacks last season. He has progressed into a fine tackle after being drafted in the second round of the 2006 draft.
Nate Livings and Bobbie Williams will be the starters at guard. Williams is going into his seventh season as the starter at right guard and has performed well over the years. He can pass block and run block as good as anyone in the league.
The production of the offensive line will have a direct correlation to the success of Carson Palmer. He became the team's starter in 2004, and for the next four years his passing yards increased every season. In 2008, he was sidelined for for the season with an elbow injury but came back to play solid in 2009. He threw for 3,094 yards, 21 touchdowns to only 13 interceptions, and posted a passer rating of 83.6.
He'll need to play a little bit better than that this season if the Bengals can be considered serious contenders, but with all the weapons that they have added, that shouldn't be a problem for the quarterback. He has a strong arm, is accurate, and can take a hit. When he's sharp, there aren't too many quarterbacks in the league better than him.
The Bengals look to have a power-packed offense in 2010. With a little help from the defense, which is finally getting some respect, they should be competitive all year long barring injuries. Palmer could very well have one of the best seasons of his career this year.
Their biggest hurdle in 2010 will be their schedule. They play in a very tough division, and outside of the division they have to play the Atlanta Falcons, Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers, New York Jets, and New Orleans Saints.
They finish the season with a week 17 matchup with the Baltimore Ravens in a game that I expect will decide the division winner. Still, at the very least I see them getting a wild card spot in the playoffs. If all goes well, who knows? They could even compete for a Super Bowl win.