At the beginning of the 2010 NFL season there were a lot of high hopes for the season. The team had just come off an impressive year in which they swept the AFC North on the way to their second division title in five years.
The team disappointed in the playoffs, losing in a blowout to the New York Jets and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. The Bengals went on to draft high prospect tight end Jermaine Gresham and picked up veteran future hall of famer Terrell Owens.
The deck was stacked and Who Dey nation was ready for a great season and a deep run in the playoffs. Then the season began and it was clear from the start that this group of players did not work well together.
After both Owens and Ochocinco were injured during Week 16, everyone got a chance to see what the young receivers could do. Cincinnati came up with a huge win at home against the San Diego Chargers. An incredible game that saw Jerome Simpson led the game for receiving yards.
One crazy offseason later and the Bengals found themselves without any of their former star players. And here we are half way through the season and the Bengals sit atop not only the AFC North, but the entire AFC.
There are a lot of interesting facts surrounding the transition of old to new with the 2011 Cincinnati Bengals. What are the former Bengals superstars doing now? How did a young team with zero expectations become the best in the conference? How can the Bengals continue their winning ways as their schedule gets tougher and the postseason gets closer?
Where Are They Now?
There are four main players gone from the team this year. It was speculated that without these guys the Bengals would need a few years to rebuild and the 2011 season would be one in which to grow.
We’ll start with the team captain and biggest loss for the Bengals, or so it seemed. Palmer walked away from football and into retirement until the trade deadline when Mike Brown made possibly the greatest trade in Bengals history.
Brown finally let his franchise quarterback go to Oakland Raiders for the hefty price of one 2012 first round pick and a conditional 2013 first round pick.
Palmer has had two games with the Raiders and it has not looked too good for him. He’s thrown three touchdowns compared to his six interceptions and blew a lead against Denver for his second loss.
Palmer is still new to the Raiders system, but it was evident in Cincinnati that Palmer has not been the same since his injury at the hands of Kimo Von Oelhoffen. Time will tell if Palmer is the answer in Oakland, but it is safe to say that Bengals fans are happy with the trade.
For years Ochocinco kept the Bengals in prime time television, but not for their wins. Ochocinco caused controversy and created distractions for a team that needed an elite receiver.
He thought more about his touchdown celebration than the routes he was running to score those touchdowns. When he should have been going over the playbook before games he was tweeting on his phone. During the lockout when players should have been working out together he was trying out for Major League Soccer, riding bulls and racing cars.
Brown recognized the young talent he had with guys like Jerome Simpson, Jordan Shipley, Andrew Caldwell, Jermaine Gresham and first round pick AJ Green.
Once the lockout was over, Brown sent his former number one receiver packing to New England where Ochocinco has had less receptions, yards and touchdowns all season than teammate Wes Welker has had in one game.
Ochocinco cannot seem to get in sync with Brady in New England and I would look for Bill Belichick to cut him after this season if not sooner.
Owens might be the saddest story of them all. He is a future hall of fame receiver that once played alongside the great Jerry Rice. Five teams later he found himself on the Bengals playing Batman and Robin with Ochocinco. Who was Batman and who was Robin? Who knows and who cares.
Owens had a decent year with the Bengals, but his offseason knee surgery and age made him a liability that the Brown wanted nothing to do with. It now appears that no other team is interested either.
Owens’s football career is coming to an end, his reality show career appears to be over and he is facing criminal charges for unpaid child support. For such a talented player it is a shame it had to end this way for him.
Many Bengals fans did not see this one coming. Joseph has been a staple on the defense for five seasons before the Houston Texans picked him up on free agency. Joseph was supposed to be the Bengals biggest priority to resign in free agency, but they let him slip away.
Joseph by far has the most to offer to any team of the four former Bengals players. He has looked solid for the Texans with one forced fumble and three interceptions, helping Houston become a true playoff contender.
Joseph left the Bengals because he wanted to be on a team that actually had a shot at winning a Super Bowl. I’m not sure Houston was the answer, but at the time they were a way safer bet than the Bengals. Houston has one of the top ranked defenses in the league, but so do the Bengals. We will all have to wait until the end of the season to see if Joseph made the right decision for his Super Bowl aspirations.
There are several reasons for the Bengals success thus far in the season.
Andy Dalton, the team’s rookie quarterback, has come out and led the offense like a veteran. A.J. Green has been the player that everyone predicted he would be. There are of course the usual rookie mistakes that both players have made, but overall they are the top rookie duo in the NFL.
The Bengals acquired former Tampa Bay offensive assistant Jay Gruden after letting go of long time offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. Gruden has helped a struggling offensive line by calling short pass plays that allow Dalton to get the ball quickly out of his hand.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer continues to strengthen his dominant defense. The Bengals defense is ranked fourth overall in both yards per game and points per game. In a season that has the New Orleans Saints rack up 60-plus points, and Green Bay and San Diego go for a combined 83 points, the Bengals have not allowed a team to score more than 24 points a game. Even in their losing effort to San Francisco, Zimmer held the NFL’s number two team to just 13 points.
Probably the biggest reason for Cincinnati’s success is the way the NFL designs the schedule each season. I won’t go into details on this because it is a complicated system, but basically if a team does poorly one season then the following season at least half their games are matched up against teams that also did poorly the previous season.
Of the eight games played so far this season, Cincinnati has played five teams with a losing record. Only two of their six wins have been against teams with a winning record. These wins do not discredit Cincinnati’s success thus far, but it is hard to say they are playoff ready when they have only faced three teams that might be in the playoffs.
The Rest of the Season
This is the tricky part for the Bengals. They have a lot of momentum going into the second half of the season, however, of their remaining eight games five are against playoff ready teams.
Week 10 Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
The Bengals have a lot going for them after a big win against Tennessee. Pittsburgh has a lot to prove after a tough loss to the Ravens. This game could decide who earns a wild card spot or even wins the division.
The Steelers have struggled this season in important games. They had a definitive win against New England that restored the belief that Pittsburgh is the top team in the AFC North. They have however dropped two games to division rival Baltimore and suffered a big loss to the Texans. These are the types of games that Pittsburgh needs to win if they want to repeat last season’s Super Bowl appearance.
This one is played in Cincinnati. If the Bengals have Jermaine Gresham, Ray Maualuga, Adam Jones and Carlos Dunlap all completely healthy I think they can hold the Steelers and win this one.
Week 11 Cincinnati at Baltimore
This game is another tough test for the Bengals. The Ravens are 4-0 this season at home, while the Bengals are 4-1 on the road. The Ravens have beaten some very tough opponents including the Steelers (twice), the Jets, and the Texans. However their two losses came from Tennessee and Jacksonville, two teams they should have beat and that the Bengals did beat this season.
Joe Flacco has been inconsistent this season. The Bengals defense has a very good chance of holding Flacco and his offense. The key to this one will be turnovers. If the Bengals can score either a defensive touchdown or a special teams touchdown they can win this game.
Given this game is in Baltimore, the Ravens have the advantage and take this one.
Week 12 Cleveland at Cincinnati
The Browns have been a huge disappointment this season. Colt McCoy does not look like the franchise quarterback that Pat Schurmur thought he would be. Madden Cover boy Peyton Hillis has shown no production in the few games he has played.
The Bengals won the first game of this series in Cleveland. Cincinnati will run that ball hard to take the lead in this matchup. Their defense will stop McCoy from making any big plays and without Hillis or any real threat at running back the Browns will be unable to move the ball on the ground.
Look for the Bengals defense to cause at least two turnovers and Carlos Dunlap will have at least one sack and possibly a defensive touchdown.
Week 13 Cincinnati at Pittsburgh
The Bengals always have a tough time when they visit Pittsburgh. It is a hostile environment for any visiting team, but especially for a division rival. Dalton handled the crowd noise in Seattle very well. I’m not sure he will fare as well at Heinz Field.
Pittsburgh will win this one in another game that will have huge implications for the AFC North playoff picture.
Week 14 Houston at Cincinnati
Houston has had a strong offense and defense all season. They are 6-3 and all of their losses have come against tough team. The Texans have won every game they should. Their game against Cincinnati will be no different.
Cincinnati’s defense has the ability to slow down the run and the pass game, but it will not be enough. The Bengals offense is not strong enough to keep them ahead in this game.
Week 15 Cincinnati at St. Louis
This is a game that Cincinnati should definitely win. St. Louis’s only win was shocking as they beat the New Orleans Saints.
St. Louis has one of the worst ranked offenses and defenses. They cannot stop the run. Gruden will use his trio of Cedric Benson, Bernard Scott, and Brian Leonard to keep the time of possession in Cincinnati’s favor.
The Bengals defense will have no problem shutting down the Rams offense. This game will look very similar to the Cincinnati/Seattle game. The offense will score, the defense will score, the special teams will score for another Bengals win.
Week 16 Arizona at Cincinnati
The Bengals close out their last two games at home, first against the Cardinals.
Arizona has looked awful all season since acquiring quarterback Kevin Kolb from the Eagles. The Bengals defense will take advantage of a weak Arizona offense for multiple sacks. Pat Sims and Domata Peko will hurry the quarterback causing Kolb to throw multiple picks.
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will light up Arizona’s defense for several big plays. Green and Simpson will both have at least one touchdown. The Bengals win this game in decisive fashion.
Week 17 Baltimore at Cincinnati
This might be the biggest game of the season for both teams. Depending on how the next seven games go for each team, this final matchup on New Year’s Day might determine who wins the AFC North and who gets a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
If the young dynasty in Cincinnati has a chance to make the playoffs I expect them to win this game in a defensive showdown.
Ray Lewis will have his team fired up to make it to the postseason, but the young offense of the Bengals will be too much for the aging defense of the Ravens.
The cold temperature will play a factor in a game that will see turnovers on each side. I predict the Bengals to win the turnover battle and earn a wild card spot to end the season.