If Sunday night's game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys is any indication, fans of both teams with high hopes heading in to this season are going to be disappointed.
While an ugly preseason game isn't really cause for concern, the lack of depth on both teams stood out. Both teams' top 22 are solid, playoff-bound units, but what's behind the first teams?
In the AFC North, the Bengals will have two other teams in the mix with outstanding depth at most positions, something the Bengals lack.
The Ravens, for example, signed Marc Bulger in the off season. They now have a Pro Bowl veteran to back up Joe Flacco. The third string QB, Troy Smith, is a fantastic athlete with outstanding leadership ability. He's not a starter, but he's a threat.
The Steelers will be forced to go to a backup for at least the first 4 games this year, and will choose between the 6'5" 250 pound Byron Leftwich (most likely), and the young Dennis Dixon, who played well in a game against the Ravens last year.
Who do the Bengals have if Carson Palmer goes down? J.T. O'Sullivan? Jordan Palmer?
The Ravens have the fantastic trio of Rice, McGahee, and McClain. Jalen Parmelee will also probably make the team to play special teams.
The Steelers Mendnhall will take most of the carries, with a lot of young but unproven talent behind him on the depth chart.
The Bengals have Cedric Benson, who is a beast. But behind him, they again have some unproven young talent. The potential is there, but nothing like the depth of the Ravens
Receivers and Tight Ends
No one can argue the Bengals have an outstanding receiving corps, even before the addition of Terrell Owens. Likewise, they have two proven, very good TEs.
The Ravens made a couple of big offseason moves to add depth to their receivers as well. In the draft, they found two outstanding prospects to back up Todd Heap.
The Steelers seem to be the team lacking depth at these positions.
Frankly, all three of these teams have solid depth at the O-Line. The Ravens probably have the most raw talent, but there have been some inconsistent injury issues. So we'll call this one a draw.
Much the same as the O-Line, all three of these teams have solid depth on the D-Line. You can tell the kind of conference the AFC North is.
All three teams have outstanding defensive squads. The Bengals and Steelers have the interchangeable groups, but the Ravens have the best players playing backup.
Both the Steelers and the Ravens have a superstar Safety. But when Troy Polamalu is out, the Steelers lose. The Ravens will be without Ed Reed, and have Zbikowski, Nakamura, and Landry (nicknamed "whop" because of the sound you hear every time he hits someone).
At cornerback, though, the Ravens are pretty thin. Both the Bengals and Steelers have more depth, although the Bengals don't know which Pacman is going to show up.
Overall, I think the Bengals might be in trouble if they run in to any injuries this year. It's pretty clear they don't have the same depth as either of their two main competitors for the AFC North.
Save for cornerback, the Ravens are the team with the most depth across all positions.
And in the smashmouth AFC North, that's probably going to matter.
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