Offering a reason for optimism for a team that's largely expected to have "rebuilding" at its core didn't sway much in the way of fans adjusting expectations from downtrodden to hopeful for a surprising 2011 season. And that's fine, if not expected. Save for the NFL draft, this has been an awful offseason that came after an awful four-win season that was originally expected to push the Bengals deeper into the playoffs. There's all of the lists telling us why the Bengals are the worst organization in professional sports, an embarrassing press conference with Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis announcing the latter's return. Three arrests, speculation with losing players to free agency, Carson Palmer's threat to retire and the NFL lockout only gives added depth to what could be considered the worst offseason in recent memory.
When writing about the team's schedule that could lend to a better-than-expected season, some weren't convinced, holding onto their laurels that a surprising season is too far away from a reality. Others just didn't buy into the argument that an easy schedule is convincing enough; or justified enough for a higher expectation.
The truth is. No one knows how this season will unfold until late December. In the meantime, all we have to go on is trends and brief speculation about our opponents. Why trends? During the Marvin Lewis era, the Bengals have played four seasons during odd-numbered seasons. Twice they've won the AFC North (2005, 2009) went 8-8 in 2003 with their only losing record coming in 2007. No winning records during even-numbered seasons, including two four-win seasons. Now we're just going crazy.
Geoff Hobson, primary writer on the mothership, writes that the Bengals could get a head start and find some success early during the season.
The Bengals open the season with three straight games against teams with first-year head coaches that have yet to work with their players when they go to Cleveland, then Denver, and stage the Sept. 25 Paul Brown Stadium opener against San Francisco. Four of Cincinnati's first five games are against defenses that ranked 20th and lower last season. The Bengals don't play a team that had a winning record last year until they host the Colts in Week 6 on Oct. 16.
More numbers in the Bengals' favor?
One of the linchpins of head coach Marvin Lewis' eight seasons has been the ability of his defenses to turn the ball over. Since '03 the Bengals are fourth in the NFL with 245 turnovers, just a dozen shy of NFL leader Baltimore. The Bears (255) are second with the Panthers and Patriots (249) tied for third.
The early opponents are coming off tough seasons protecting the ball in 2010. Buffalo, the foe at home Oct. 2, led the AFC with 39 turnovers despite putting up 49 points in what seemed to be the time it took to take a commercial break at PBS. The Jaguars, the next foe Oct. 9 in Jacksonville, were third with 33, and the Browns, the Sept. 11 opener opponent, were fifth with 29.
Take the optimism for what it is. Idle speculation. We could start foaming at the mouth and smashing things about how bad the season will be. But why do that when there's plenty of other Bengals-related sites out there that predict more doom on a wider scale than Nostradamus himself?
Yet this isn't about blind optimism either. The points are relevant. Whether or not you like the justification for optimism -- easier schedule, teams with first-year head coaches, struggling defenses, turnover prone offenses -- if the Bengals kick off the season by winning games, no one will really care how.
True. Variables swirl inside the mind, impacting the side of our skull with enough force that we're randomly committing an imitation of The Roxbury Guys. New offensive coordinator with a rookie quarterback and a rookie wide receiver. Jerome Simpson, expected to start the season, is not unlike a second-year player, who will also be introduced to a new wide receivers coach. Will the Bengals sign a veteran quarterback and can that veteran quarterback learn the system from scratch (this is why we don't think Vince Young is a viable option and the Bengals won't trade for Donovan McNabb who is not a free agent). Questions remain at running back. Can Rey Maualuga adjust as a middle linebacker and defensive quarterback? How will the defense react losing Johnathan Joseph and Brandon Johnson as expected and how will those players replacing them react?
Even if the Bengals don't succeed in the win column in 2011, it'll be interesting, exciting and fun to see our younger players continue developing and our rookies adjusting to the NFL. You can't tell me there isn't a little excitement in you to see how Andy Dalton in the pocket. Right?
Those questions will be answered, as will the justification for optimism or pessimism, whatever school you're currently subscribing to. The best part is that football really is upon us and now we can finally get to the nitty-gritty of this year's squad, while watching to see how the Bengals spend what could be upwards to $46.8 million to get over the proposed league's cash floor.