Many people outside of the "Bengals bubble" scoff at us when we believe that the team will be serious contenders again in 2012. We know that the team laid a good foundation through the last two drafts and they received massive praise for their haul again this year. The nay-sayers point to the inability of the Cincinnati to string together back-to-back solid seasons, as well as the ever-vague "they're still the Bungles" excuse.
Well, various writers at NFL.com have been on the Bengals bandwagon since last week's draft festivities concluded and Steve Wyche believes that they're serious contenders this year.
In his column discussing the AFC Division races, Wyche dissects each 2011 division winner and their biggest possible threat to unseat them, based on the offseason. He first speaks on the reigning division champs, the Baltimore Ravens:
Defending champion: Baltimore Ravens.
Baltimore was this close to getting to the Super Bowl and seemed equipped to make a serious run for it this season, as QB Joe Flacco got things going toward the end of the season. Losing starting OLB Jarret Johnson in free agency hurt, but not nearly as much as having Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs injure his Achilles' tendon, putting his availability for the entire 2012 season in serious jeopardy. Top draft pick Courtney Upshaw is going to have to grow up quick.
The Suggs injury hurts the Ravens, no doubt, but they (as well as the Steelers) seem to always find a way to overcome these injuries and remain competitive. Unseating the champs, even with their departures, won't be easy.
So who does Wyche point to as the favorites to ruin the 2012 season for the rest of the AFC North? Our Cincinnati Bengals.
Biggest threat, based on offseason moves: Cincinnati Bengals.
As I alluded to in the first sentence of this column, the Steelers figure to be in the thick of the divisional hunt (per usual). But they won't be alone ... The Bengals don't tend to follow up strong seasons with better ones, but now could be the time. Free-agent cornerbacks Jason Allen and Terence Newman aren't special players, but defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer finds ways to resurrect DBs who fell off elsewhere. The acquisition of RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis is going to look very savvy come midseason. He's a reliable, do-it-all guy. Not much flash, but very sound. Few teams appeared to have killed it like Cincy did in the draft, nabbing six players in the first four rounds who could contribute right away, leading with CB Dre Kirkpatrick and guard Kevin Zeitler.
Refreshing, isn't it? Though the hype for the Bengals going into 2012 feels similar to those surrounding the 2010 offseason, there are differences. The main one being that the 2012 squad doesn't appear to be built on a foundation of sand like that disastrous squad of two seasons ago. We'll see if Wyche is right, but the rest of the AFC North had better be on the lookout.