The AFC North Division Champs from a year ago, the Cincinnati Bengals, are again in a push for the NFL playoffs. They returned almost everyone from their 2009 campaign, and made only one major move in the offseason: The signing of future Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrell Owens.
How he performs will determine how far the Bengals go. No, it's not his team; it's Chad Ochocinco's. But the Bengals only went so far with one decent playmaker in the flats and Carson Palmer, who is no longer a prolific quarterback ever since the departure of ex-Bengal T.J. Houshmandzadeh (yes I spelled it right!), needed a second option in the passing game. Chad needed a guy on his opposite end too. He posted the second lowest amount of catches in a healthy season in his career last year, and was double teamed on occasion by opposing defenses. The threat of a deep route on the other sideline will help them open up the secondary.
Comeback player of the decade Cedric Benson will be manning a pretty deep backfield but will get the bulk of the workload. Cincinnati has never had the presence of a pass catching tight end, but may have found one in first-round draft pick Jermaine Gresham. He has 13 catches for 99 yards and a touchdown through the front three.
I am not sure if I like their defense or not. Although one of the better defenses last year in the NFL, they could end up being third best in the AFC as compared to Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph were never known as shutdown cover corners, but both managed to have a breakout season last year. They recorded six interceptions apiece in 2009, but have combined for only two this year. Rey Maualuga is their rising star at the linebacker position. A potential draft pick for the Browns that got away, Maualuga was a second-round pick in last year's draft. His numbers thus far have not been pretty, but scouts like him. They like Keith Rivers also at the other outside linebacker spot. Teams have had an easier time with defensive end Antwan Odom, coming off of a sore wrist injury, that has affected his play significantly. He has just three tackles with no sacks.
Its hard to tell if this Bengals defense is a one-year wonder, or will post back-to-back division title winning seasons. They do have balance, but they don't have an All-Pro to pick up the slack in times of adversity. There is no Ray Lewis, Troy Polumalu or Darrell Revis on this roster.
This season, the Bengals go from predator to prey. This could turn them back into kittens as compared to last year's cats. They will need to defend their AFC title well, because the Ravens and Steelers are looking right in their rearview mirror.