Who on the Bengals could be a "Comeback Player of the Year" candidate after a surprising 9-7 finish and a playoff berth in 2011? If you were to point at injuries, Leon Hall and/or Pat Sims could be candidates, though they were already having solid seasons and played for a good portion of the year before landing on injured reserve. You could point to poor performers or other players who have had their share of struggles like Taylor Mays or Adam Jones.
Well, CBSSports released a list of their top ten comeback player candidates and, spoiler alert, no Bengals players made the list. That isn't to say that there aren't familiar faces on the list though.
Coming in at No.7 on the list is former Bengals quarterback, Carson Palmer.
7. Carson Palmer, QB, Raiders
Palmer was so fed up with the circus that had become the Bengals that he opted for temporary retirement instead of returning to Cincinnati. Owner Mike Brown not only called his bluff and drafted rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, he let Palmer fidget uncomfortably on his couch while the regular season was underway. Eventually, the Raiders, desperate to do whatever it took to keep Kyle Boller off the field, traded two first-rounders and a second-rounder to Cincy for Palmer. He saw his first game action in Week 7 after days on the practice field with his new team. The results were predictably disastrous. Palmer threw three interceptions in a 28-0 blanking by the hapless Chiefs. Two weeks later, he made his first start -- another loss to Tim Tebow and the Broncos. He then showed glimpses of the franchise quarterback the Raiders had hoped they were getting. Oakland won three in a row including a clinical Palmer performance against the Chargers in Week 10. But the Raiders lost four of five to end the season, were outpaced by the Broncos for the division title, ended up missing the playoffs and coach Hue Jackson lost his job because of it. At the time of the trade, the consensus was that, anything less than a postseason appearance would be hugely disappointing and eight months later, that still holds. Now, with a full offseason to learn the offense and become comfortable with his teammates, and under new coach Dennis Allen, Palmer should more resemble the passer we saw in Cincy early in his career. Because if he doesn't get it done this year, he could be out of chances.
This truly is a make or break season for Palmer in his career. If he returns to the form he had in the mid-2000s, he could hang onto his job with the Raiders for a handful of years. If he continues his turnover-prone ways, his career could derail out of relevance, much like Donovan McNabb's has. In case you forgot, the fall guy for Palmer's poor performance, Hue Jackson, is now an assistant coach with the Bengals.
Topping the list is former Bengals wide receiver, Chad Ochocinco.
1. Chad Ochocinco, WR, Dolphins
Ochocinco says he's changing his name back to Johnson. Hopefully, his game will return to its previous form, too. Coming off easily the worst season of his 11-year career, the bar couldn't be set any lower. Ochocinco, 34, managed just 15 catches for 276 yards and a lone touchdown during his nine-month stint with the Patriots. He was released earlier this month, signed by the Dolphins days later and wasted little time returning to his old, loquacious self. Regularly fined for touchdown celebrations during his time with the Bengals, Ochocinco has already warned NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell via Twitter that "I will be a problem this year." By itself, this seems like more Ochocinco grandstanding. OK, it's hard to argue that, but it also shows that his confidence -- which was nonexistent a year ago -- has returned. And while he's not the player he was five or six years ago, he can still help the Dolphins, a team with no shortage of needs. Plus, after last season in New England, there's nowhere to go but up.
We'll see what Ochocinco has left in the tank for 2012. On one hand, he could be rejuvenated because of landing in his hometown of Miami. He'll once again be in the spotlight for HBO's Hard Knocks miniseries and will undoubtedly relish the attention. On the other hand, he's going to a team that has a muddled quarterback situation, not to mention that the Dolphins are making him fight for his roster spot. While he should make the team, it's not a foregone conclusion that Ochocinco will contribute more than he did in New England.
If you're a Bengals fan who is once again screaming "what about us?!", take solace in the fact that only two players on this list are on teams that made the 2011 playoffs--the Patriots and Broncos (Devin McCourty and Ryan Clady). The point being that if you're a player on this list it's either because you and/or your team had a poor prior season performance. So, there's that to take solace in.