Despite another solid draft, a better-than-expected free agency, and back-to-back playoff appearances, this year's Bengals team is still seen through Bungles-tinted glasses by many members of the sports media world. No matter how much success the Bengals have enjoyed as of late, it seems that a lot of people are just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Winning seasons are seen as an aberration rather than a trend, and the idea of building upon success with further improvement is a foreign notion to many outside of Cincinnati.
Case in point, according to Evan Silva on Rotoworld.com, the Bengals rank 17th in his post-draft NFL lineup rankings. That puts them in the bottom half of the league. Here's what Silva had to say about his ranking.
Offensive Overview: The additions of Bernard and Eifert and healthy return of Sanu give coordinator Jay Gruden the enticing option of opening up his offense and scheming more aggressive, pass-oriented football. Will he, and does he think modest-armed Dalton is capable of playing that way? Through two seasons, Dalton has largely been utilized as a game manager, and his performance has regressed in back-to-back years as the seasons have progressed. He's not getting better. Look for Gresham to spend more time on the line blocking while Eifert becomes the flex or "move" tight end, creating mismatches in the slot and outside. Green is arguably a top-two receiver in football, and Cincinnati's offensive line is right up there with the best in the league. If the Bengals are ever going to get over the one-and-done playoff hump, though, they'll need more from Dalton. It's also possible Dalton's limited physical talent will continue to hold this club back.
So let's review: "a top-two receiver in football," an o-line that is "right up there with the best in the league," and the addition of new, highly-drafted players in Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert. That doesn't sound like the description of a 17th-ranked team to me. So what's the catch? Quarterback Andy Dalton, apparently. After only two seasons of play (two playoff-caliber seasons, mind you), Silva is ready to jettison Dalton, citing a regression in performance in year-two. Never mind the injuries suffered on the offensive side of the ball, or the fact that Dalton's top four receivers only played a handful of snaps together and never during a game. In Silva's eyes, Dalton can only stay the same or get worse, which drags down the team-wide lineup ranking to 17 for the Bengals.
Kind of defeats the purpose of doing such a ranking if you only focus on one player.
But, seeing as this is a team ranking, maybe the reason for the low score rests on the defensive side.
Defensive Overview: Cincinnati's secondary is average and Maualuga is a liability at middle linebacker, but this is a top-ten defense because the front four is ferocious. Atkins is the best three-technique tackle in football. Via the franchise tag, the Bengals are smartly keeping Johnson in another contract year after his breakout 2012 season in the final year of his rookie deal. Peko is a passable nose and Dunlap is talented enough to take over games, if he could ever stay healthy consistently. On passing downs, look for Dunlap or Johnson to kick inside with Harrison dropping to end. Mike Zimmer's defense can bring an enormous amount of pressure, which makes life much easier on Cincinnati's defensive backs. Camp battles will take place at free safety and left corner. Newman will be pushed hard by 2012 first-rounder Dre Kirkpatrick.
"Top-ten defense." Huh. Guess not.
Here is Silva's complete list of team rankings:
11. New York Giants
12. Houston Texans
18. Miami Dolphins
20. St. Louis Rams
21. Dallas Cowboys
23. Detroit Lions
24. Cleveland Browns
27. Tennessee Titans
28. New York Jets
30. Buffalo Bills
32. Oakland Raiders
Where would you rank the Bengals?