Look No Further Than Their Opponents: Why The 2011 Bengals Could Surprise People

CINCINNATI OH - AUGUST 15: Cedric Benson #32 of the Cincinnati Bengals crosses the goal line for a touchdown against the Denver Broncos during a preseason game at Paul Brown Stadium on August 15 2010 in Cincinnati Ohio. The Bengals won 33-24. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Clark Judge of CBSSports.com writes that the Bengals aren't likely to improve off their 4-12 season from a year ago. There's too much uncertainty to build a consensus prediction on this team anything more than the standard of rebuilding a team. The script goes something like this. Team expects big things, suckered into a ten-game losing streak and loses star franchise quarterback because the first $70 million he earned from Mike Brown was more than enough. Offensive coordinator is fired, but only after a long contentious negotiation between Brown and the Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. Furthermore, the Bengals didn't just hire a new offensive coordinator; they're implementing an entirely new offensive system with a brand new quarterback and a ton of inexperience at wide receiver. And brand new quarterback, we mean a guy that hasn't been allowed to speak to coaches since being drafted due to the lockout. Jay Gruden isn't the only new coach on offense either; the Bengals hired James Urban as the wide receivers coach.

Don't get me wrong, I like the guys the Bengals have at the position. In fact, they were better a year ago without Owens and Ochocinco down the stretch. But that was when Palmer was quarterbacking ... and they still lost 10 in a row. Now you have a guy who hasn't taken a snap in the offseason paired with a coordinator who hasn't called a play in the NFL, and you're expecting them to better last year's 4-12 train wreck? I don't think so.

It's hard to dispute Judge's point of view. We can't dispel the notion that Andy Dalton will unlikely grab a football and throw Tomahawk missiles into the loving embrace of inexperienced wide receivers. Nor can we suggest that re-signing Cedric Benson will mean anything more than a pedestrian 3.5 yard/rush average and seven fumbles. After all, that's what he did last year. Our expectations are low this year, especially on offense. They're not low because we think the Bengals will stink; we don't think that. They're low because we're not sure what team we're going to get this year.

The one area of contention against Judge's arguments is describing last year's squad as a train wreck.

Alright, lose 10 games in a row and it's hard to classify it as anything else. But we're not excusing the Bengals last year when we say that the team was handed a tough schedule last year, playing ten games with opponents that sported at least 10 wins last year. And of those 10 games, the Bengals won one and lost six by less than a touchdown. They were only blown out by the New York Jets, the Pittsburgh Steelers (part II) and the New England Patriots (Bengals held leads against the Jets and Steelers at one point in each game). A late fourth quarterback fumble sealed Indianapolis' win over the Bengals, as did a bad decision against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and another fumble against the Atlanta Falcons. Cincinnati actually held a three-point lead on the New Orleans Saints with over four minutes left in the game. This team wasn't the train wreck their record indicated; most of Cincinnati's losses last year had as much to do with self-inflicted wounds then it did an opposition beating the Bengals. And most of their losses were a possession away from being wins. Not excusing the team's 4-12 record, just laying out some raw hard facts.

There's plenty of turnover on this team to allow excuses of growth, acceptable to most, to permeate the Bengals fan this year. And to us, that's alright. Playoff expectations might be a little radical at this point. At least until we have more information to make an informed prediction of something that we currently perceive as grossly unrealistic.

But the Bengals could actually surprise people in 2011. That's not revising expectations, it's accounting for the 2011 season rather than statistical analysis or detailed grades of the previous season. Yet you look at the schedule and there was no better season for the Bengals to rebuild their offense.

Only three teams the Bengals face in 2011 produced winning records last season (Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore). Cincinnati will play nine games, count them, nine games against teams that won six games or less in 2010. We're not expecting the Bengals to make the playoffs. But much like the 2010 record seemed to indicate, their 2011 season won't be as bad as some are making us believe.

Bengals 2011 Opponents And Their 2010 Record Record
Cleveland Browns (Part I) 5-11
Denver Broncos 4-12
San Francisco 49ers 6-10
Buffalo Bills 4-12
Jacksonville Jaguars 8-8
Indianapolis Colts 10-6
Seattle Seahawks 7-9
Tennessee Titans 6-10
Pittsburgh Steelers (Part I) 12-4
Baltimore Ravens (Part I) 12-4
Cleveland Browns (Part II) 5-11
Pittsburgh Steelers (Part II) 12-4
Houston Texans 6-10
St. Louis Rams 7-9
Arizona Cardinals 5-11
Baltimore Ravens (Part II) 12-4

Bengals 2010 Result With Opponent's Final Records

  Record Result
New England Patriots 14-2 L 24-38
Baltimore Ravens (Part I) 12-4 W 15-10
Carolina Panthers 2-14 W 20-7
Cleveland Browns (Part I) 5-11 L 20-23
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10-6 L 21-24
Atlanta Falcons 13-3 L 32-39
Miami Dolphins 7-9 L 14-22
Pittsburgh Steelers (Part I) 12-4 L 21-27
Indianapolis Colts 10-6 L 17-23
Buffalo Bills 4-12 L 31-49
New York Jets 11-5 L 10-26
New Orleans Saints 11-5 L 30-34
Pittsburgh Steelers (Part II) 12-4 L 7-23
Cleveland Browns (Part II) 5-11 W 19-17
San Diego Chargers 9-7 W 34-20
Baltimore Ravens (Part II) 12-4 L 7-13
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