Cincinnati Bengals and the 7 Teams with the Brightest Futures
The Bengals are one of the biggest surprises of the season (in a good way, for Bengals fans).
A.J. Green is living up to all his hype and Andy Dalton is looking like a franchise quarterback already, even if he obviously still has some growing to do.
However, the Bengals aren't the only team on the right track right now. Several teams are looking like bright futures are ahead of them.
Here are the top seven.
7. Green Bay Packers
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Disclaimer: I am not saying that the teams ranked above the Packers have a brighter future than the Packers. What I am saying is that the Packers are already in a pretty good place, so I didn't want to rank them any higher than last.
The Packers just won the Super Bowl last year and are the only remaining undefeated team this season. Because the lockout prevented teams from changing a lot, they also have a better chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions than a team has had in years.
They are stocked with talent at pretty much every position, and drafted for depth with their first few draft picks this past year. They're so good that it's mind-blowing.
Their present is bright already, with Rodgers still in his 20s and still surrounded by talented receivers and a mean defense headed by young guys like B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews III, and Green Bay's days of dominance will continue for years.
6. Tennessee Titans
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If Jake Locker works out for the Titans, they will be sitting pretty in a very short while.
Chris Johnson looks terrible, but other than that, the Titans are doing pretty well. The defense has a lot of emerging stars, three of which (Karl Klug, Akeem Ayers and Jurrell Casey) were drafted this year.
Add to that the young stud receiver Kenny Britt, young cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty and sophomore defensive end Derrick Morgan, and you have a team with a ton of very young talent that's just a couple of years away from competing for a Super Bowl if they stay on the right track.
That is, of course, if Jake Locker works out. He had a pretty impressive preseason, but that's just the preseason. We still have no idea where he is as true NFL quarterback.
5. San Francisco 49ers
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Despite Alex Smith still looking like he lacks something, their passing game is pretty healthy. Smith has a career high 63.2 percent completion rate and a career high QB rating of 95.7. He also has the best touchdown-to-turnover ratio of his career (9-to-2) and is on pace to pass for more yards than ever before.
Their first-round rookie Aldon Smith is also doing impressive things. He has 6.5 sacks and a forced fumble already this season. Amongst rookies, even Von Miller can't match that.
Whatever Harbaugh is doing, he's doing it right, and I expect him to be able to get the best out of second-round pick Colin Kaepernick as well. They'll be a team to watch for the next few years.
4. St. Louis Rams
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They are terrible this year, but that doesn't mean the future isn't bright.
Sam Bradford was very impressive in his rookie season, but he needs to tell his receivers that dropped passes are a bad thing. He also needs better pocket protection.
With the high pick that the Rams will have this year in the draft, along with the deep wide receiver class, they may be able to get a franchise left tackle and a legitimate No. 1 target for Bradford this year.
They're still rebuilding, but they're on the right track. With a quarterback like Bradford, they'll be on to winning ways soon enough.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Josh Freeman is having an off year, but the talent is still there. Off years happen.
Last season, Tampa Bay had the youngest team in the NFL and they still won 10 games. That doesn't usually happen. With the NFC South getting tougher, it's hard for the Buccaneers to hang around, but there's still a ton of promise for the team.
Their offense is doing pretty well. Freeman hasn't been at his best, but he'll recover. They also have a good offensive line, a great running back in LeGarrette Blount and some promising young receivers.
They had what may turn into the steal of the draft last season with second-round pick Da'Quan Bowers. Bowers' injury concerns made him fall from near the top of the big boards into the second round. He hasn't played much yet, but if he develops back into a top player, the Bucs will have a very scary edge rush.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
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What a pair of draft picks. A.J. Green and Andy Dalton are doing absolutely everything right on offense for a couple of rookies.
Despite being shorter than is preferable, coming from a spread offense and playing against small school competition, Dalton has completed more than 62 percent of his throws for 1,479 yards and nine touchdowns. He rushed for an additional touchdown.
A.J. Green is smoking all other rookie receivers. He's caught 33 balls this season for 516 yards and five touchdowns. From him, though, that kind of high level play was expected.
They also have developed one of the stingiest defenses in the NFL. They are currently ranked ninth against the pass and second against the rush.
1. Carolina Panthers
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It all starts with having a franchise quarterback, and the Panthers definitely have that.
Everyone knew Cam Newton was a boom-or-bust prospect, but no one guessed that he would boom this big.
Cam Newton seems to be what Michael Vick, Vince Young and Tim Tebow were supposed to be. He's tall and accurate enough to sit in the pocket and throw, but if play breaks down, he's fast and athletic enough to run the ball.
He hasn't led his team to many victories, but two wins at midseason is as many as the Panthers had in all of the 2010 season. Once they upgrade the few weak points on the offensive line, upgrade the defensive tackle position and get Newton a No. 1 target to replace Steve Smith, the Panthers will be a force to be reckoned with.
I don't think Jerry Richardson is losing much sleep over Andrew Luck not declaring last year.