As we all know, the Bengals surprised a lot of opponents last year, thanks to a solid defense and huge plays made by the offense. The Bengals raced past teams they weren't supposed to beat, and found themselves a few steps ahead in the playoff chase. In the end, the Bengals made the playoffs and sent four players under 25 to the Pro Bowl.
Now, as nationwide attention turns to the NFL Draft, the Bengals are looking ahead at 2012 and realizing that they won't be taken so lightly by their opponents again.
In an interview with SportsRadioInterviews.com, Quarterback Andy Dalton revealed that he thinks the Bengals will have more of a target on their back this year:
I think so. I think nobody expected us to do that last year, where now they understand what kind of team we are and the kind of players that we have. So, I think people won’t take us lightly.
Dalton and the young Bengals will certainly have their hands full in dealing with a tougher 2012 schedule that involves visits with the NFC East and AFC West. The schedule includes a lot of teams who can play up to anybody, but I expect the Bengals will be ready for the increased pressure and increased national exposure of this season.
The 2010 Bengals team was faced with even bigger expectations after going 10-6 in 2009 and signing Wide Receiver Terrell Owens in the offseason. But, this squad crumbled and was replaced by an entirely new team in 2011. Many of the original 2009 starters have been surpassed by high draft picks, and solid, veteran pickups in free agency.
With the draft now only a week away, the Bengals will have a great opportunity to seize the moment and have consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1981-1982. It all depends on Dalton now, but the Bengals may need to improve the pieces around him at guard, runningback, and wide receiver. Dalton also admitted that he must improve his deep ball, which was used effectively in 2011, though largely as a result of A.J. Green adjusting to bails midair.