1. Schedule - This one's real simple. Our schedule is flat out weak this year.
2. Jay Gruden - First and most importantly he's not Brat.!!! I don't care what he brings to the table anything will be an improvement over what we've had to deal with for the last several seasons under Brat. Secondly, our offensive of plays and terminologies appear to have been simplified under Jay Gruden. This is a great thing (especially this year) for our young skilled players (Jerome Simpson, AJ Greene, etc.), our new QB's (Andy Dalton, Bruce Gradkowski) as well as for the shortened off season. Thirdly, our opponents have no film on us to study (this is a huge part of the NFL game) to see what our offense will look like, therefore they are likely to be much less prepared than they have been in recent memory when we've been soooo predictable. This advantage should continue throughout the year as Jay slowly continues to integrate more and more of his playbook with new looks and new sets as the season progresses.
3. New Quarterback - Last year approximately 1/5 of all the touchdowns our QB threw went to the opposing team (pick six), that's almost un-heard of and it's an absolute killer to any team!! I know a lot of people were/are un-easy about the QB situation going into this season, especially with the possibility of starting a rookie. However, you shouldn't be because even though we may not get elite QB play this season, it certainly has a very good chance to be better than what we've seen in recent years (and remember we are only 1 removed from making the playoffs). Having said that, we probally won't see any of the statistical categories improve (yards/td's) but I think we will see a lot of other aspects (that have killed us in the past) improve quite dramatically. Here's what I mean; We should see a lot more plays extended by the QB moving both in and out of the pocket instead of being a statue (this in turn can create more big plays). We should see fewer negative plays/wasted plays (QB sacks/passes thrown into the stands avoiding a sack). We should be better in 3rd down situations, again Qb's ability to break the pocket and create/extend plays (obviously new OC will help with this as well by not being so predictable). Finally, believe it or not we should expect to actually see less int's from our rookie QB this year (again not as may TD's but less than 20 INTs is a pretty good bet). Before anyone says anything I know generally speaking rookie QB's don't do well there first year but they are also typically on bad teams with very little talent (we are definitely not lacking in talent). It's not like we are going into the season asking our QB to be the savior and do too much, we are just looking for him to manage the game and make some plays along the way. Unlike a lot of the other starting rookies QB's that have been drafted high in the first round with expectations through the roof, ours is coming in being drafted in the 2nd round and quite frankly the expectations for this team are going to be quite low creating much less pressure for him to perform at a super high level.
4. Defense/Linebackers - I think our linebacker acquisitions are one of the most underrated moves of the off-season this year. If you look at our defense over the last five to six years the one thing that killed us over and over again year after year was our inability to protect the middle of the field and cover the opposing teams tight ends and/or backs out of the back field. If Heath Miller and Todd Heap played us every week they would both be first ballot hall of famers. This year however, both Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard have the size, speed, and cover skills to cover opposing teams tight ends and/or backs one and one and for the most part shut them down. I know some are still worried about the drop off at corner but I think it will be minimal and to be perfectly honest I'd rather see our opponents attack us on the outside with there WR (on our corners) than underneath with a TE and/or running back because attacking the outside is a much lower percentage pass play.
5. Lack of distractions - This is a rather obvious one as well but with the TO/Ocho show gone I think the team will be much more business like and comfortable in just doing there jobs. So far from what I've seen of the training camp videos and highlights you can see this displayed on the coaches and players faces as well (I don't ever remember Marvin looking so happy!!!). Like almost every other rational Bengals fan, I too wish they would have traded Carson when they could have received maximum value for him. However, it's obviously not going to happen this year and they have done a pretty nice job of making it a moot point. I'm sure they will trade him next year before the draft, but in the mean time it does not appear to be much of a story anymore, which is a good for this team.
I know a lot people think I am crazy but I'm really optimistic about this year and just have a feeling we are going to be much better than people are anticipating!!