Andy Dalton

Last year: 10-6, second in AFC North, lost in Wild Card round

Acquisitions: James Harrison, Tyler Eifert, Giovani Bernard, Margus Hunt, Mike Nugent, Josh Johnson

Departures: Nate Clements, Manny Lawson, Bruce Gradkowski, Brian Leonard, Josh Brown

Vegas win total over/under: 8 1/2 wins

Verdict: OVER

deebobird

Five things James Harrison hates more than the “Hard Knocks” cameras:

– Roger Goodell

– Heads Up Football

– Brains without concussions

– Quarterbacks with breath

– Anyplace that people are happy and not fleeing in terror

Fan forecast by Who Dey Revolution:

One more step.

That’s all A.J. Green likely needed to catch up with Andy Dalton’s overthrown pass in Houston back on January 5th, 2013. One more step would have silenced Reliant Stadium…as well as propelled the Bengals to their first playoff win since the 1990 season, the longest post season winless streak currently in the NFL.

One more step is also what the Bengals need to take as an organization in order to get that elusive playoff win and hopefully more in the upcoming 2013 season. Say what you will about Marvin Lewis’ ability to manage the game clock or use a challenge flag, but also please recognize that he has been dragging the mom-and-pop Bengals ownership kicking and screaming into the modern NFL basically by himself. In fact, we even have a real professional in charge of our personnel department now, instead of, you know, a former high school athletic director and friend of the Brown family (and real life troll, see below, and do not feed it).

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Whether or not the organization can take that next step remains to be seen. As long-time fans of the Bengals, we have no choice but to remain firmly in the skeptical camp. However, there is no denying that this Bengals team looks and feels like a real big boy squad for the first time since Paul Brown was still alive (or maybe the 2005 Carson Palmer-led squad if we’re charitable). In the off-season, the Bengals certainly went to work trying to make sure the team takes the next step, making moves to shore up the missing pieces on both sides of the football.

Offensively, the Bengals have reloaded at skill positions to give Andy Dalton every conceivable weapon in his arsenal. Mohamed Sanu returns from injury at the #2 wide receiver spot opposite the all-world A.J. Green, and we’ll describe him as ‘promising’ for now. Despite voluntarily choosing to play football at Notre Dame, rookie TE Tyler Eifert appears to be a wonderful player and excellent pass catching weapon. If all breaks right, he may be the real potential number two receiving threat behind AJ Green. He joins the thoroughly average Jermaine Gresham at TE, so expect to see those two TE sets that are all the rage these days.

On the ground, Giovanni Bernard, the first running back selected in the 2013 draft, is exactly what the Bengals needed in order to offer a change of pace to the chain-moving (i.e., slow) BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Bernard’s ability to make plays in space in the running and passing game could be a gigantic difference maker in post-season play. He has looked extremely fast and hard to corral during the first four preseason games, which we all know is a reliable indicator for future success.

But this is all getting too optimistic for us, so let’s also add the Bengals have serious questions on the offensive line. Tackles Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith have been extremely limited during training camp (Whitworth played zero snaps in the preseason)…and the interior linemen have been average at best. The question truly lies in pass protection – where keeping Andy Dalton upright will be paramount. This is the proverbial elephant in the room right now that could be a major factor (or deterrent) to a fast start in Cincinnati.

Wait, there’s another proverbial elephant in the room. We’re also not sure if Andy Dalton is actually a good quarterback. But brushing this tiny issue aside for the time being…

…on defense, re-signing Geno Atkins to a monster contract helps solidify one of the best defensive lines in football. The Bengals can rush just their front four and legitimately put pressure on the quarterback. Carlos Dunlap was also locked up long-term in the offseason, and Michael Johnson is here at least this year after signing his $11 million franchise tag tender.

There are questions elsewhere, however, as the much maligned linebacker Rey Maualuga is back as the starter in the middle. And by much maligned, we mean Pro Football Focus rated him the worst 4-3 inside linebacker in the NFL. Good times!

The good news is that no matter what kind of crappy raw material you give our-favorite-human-being-on-earth/defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, he can pretty much turn it into a good finished product. Exhibit A: Vontaze Burfict. We’re also hoping an aging James Harrison becomes Exhibit B. Speaking of Harrison, as Bengals fans it is hard to describe the cognitive dissonance we are experiencing rooting for this sociopath. But, fuck it, he’s our sociopath now.

In the secondary, Dre Kirkpatrick is back after never seeing the field as a rookie due to injury (a very Bengals thing to have happen) and is having a fantastic camp. He will see more action in nickel packages or potentially even a starting role if injuries strike. The strong safety situation is still suspect as Taylor Mays remains in active consideration for employment in an actual, live role. Also, Pacman gon shine as usual. Please note, he is a clubhouse leader and veteran on our relatively youthful team, so definitely no red flags there.

To conclude, what’s in store for 2013? Once again, in an incredibly unusual situation for Bengals fans, the range of potential outcomes for the Bengals appears to skew more towards the upside (playoff run) than the downside (Akili Smith is your starting QB).

Best-case scenario? Andy Dalton IS actually good and turns in a clutch playoff performance and the Bengals caravan to the Meadowlands to fight for their first-ever Lombardi Trophy.

Worst-case scenario? The Bengals never find their rhythm offensively, lose too many close games, and hover around the .500 mark…and land on the outside looking in for the playoff picture.

The Bengals (as an organization and for the long-suffering city of Cincinnati), desperately need to take the next step and win a meaningful game in January. If the cards fall favorably, this team has dark-horse potential to come out of the AFC in 2013. And yes, we can’t believe we just wrote that and were serious and not on drugs.