Coming into the season, it seems that we are all feeling pretty good about the upcoming season. The pieces seem to be falling into place and talent seems to be raining in Cincinnati. As a whole, I think we've pretty much received everything we hoped for this offseason, minus a free agent strong safety. As a consolation prize, it appears that Taylor Mays will not be starting there, so there's that.
We know that Andy Dalton is not Peyton Manning. But we also know that you don't need a QB of that caliber to win the Super Bowl. With that said, in lieu of that elite QB (can't believe I just used that ESPN-ism), you better have some great pieces to make up for it, starting on the defensive side of the ball. We have what in theory should be a top-5 defense. I'm somewhat concerned about our secondary after that undressing at the hands of Tony Romo, but I still have the luxury of chalking that up to only being a preseason game, as well as having some guys sitting out.
On offense, it all comes down to how Andy plays. He has all the weapons in the world, a proficient line, and two years under his belt. Our running game is somewhat of an unknown quantity, but I have faith that it will be improved from last year. I believe that our passing game can take another step forward, but it's an unknown quantity as well.
With all of this information, what result to the season would you consider a success? In my opinion, anything less than an AFC North crown and a playoff victory will be a failure for the amount of talent on this team. Things seem to be moving in our favor. Even the most objective football fan can see that both Baltimore and Pittsburgh have regressed. Cleveland, even though they are trending upward, are still missing a few pieces in my opinion, and they'll be searching for a new quarterback in 2-3 years because Brandon "Doopy Pantz" Weeden will be filing for social security. At the same time, this might be the most talented Bengals team that I've had the opportunity to watch in my life time (Note: I am 25 years old).
If, and this is a huge if, Andy Dalton progresses, the young guys contribute like we all hope they can, the opportunity for a Super Bowl appearance is in the cards. As a whole, the AFC has weakened. I may be mistaken, but I don't really consider the Patriots as a Super Bowl contender this year. As I look through each AFC team, the only safe bet out there is the Denver Broncos. Honestly, do you guys fear anyone else in the AFC?