Pete Prisco has some more company on the Bengals bandwagon. Former NFL player, head coach, and current ESPN analyst Herm Edwards is making a case for the Cincinnati Bengals as the AFC North favorites. He recently wrote an ESPN Insider article (yes, one that requires a subscription to read) that declares the Bengals as Edwards' pick to win the division. He breaks it down into three simple qualities this 2013 Bengals squad has: an "elite" defense, quality drafts as of late, and a deep offense that is a versatile threat on the field.
It's no secret that the Bengals are largely identified by a strong defense operated by Mike Zimmer. When the Bengals defense is brought up, names like Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, and newcomer veteran James Harrison are often mentioned; Edwards gives credit to all of these players. He believes the addition of Dre Kirkpatrick will fortify our defensive backs even more.
"Bringing pressure requires corners to hold up on an island, an area where Zimmer should now have more confidence with Leon Hall and Dre Kirkpatrick back on the outside. A 2012 first-round pick, Kirkpatrick played only four games as rookie because of injuries, but I love his length and his ability to press receivers at the line."
Edwards acknowledges the need for some clarity at the safety position, but with George Iloka having a promising offseason (despite a short-term injury) and Shawn Williams showing his potential as a rookie, the safety position is arguably more solid than it has been over the past several seasons.
Edwards praises the Bengals for their draft picks not only in the first few rounds, but even when you look deeper in drafts from the past few years. Of course he compliments the new era built upon Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, but he goes on to address the great depth the organization has built beyond them.
Eifert and Bernard should vastly improve this offense, and if you've been watching "Hard Knocks," you know how much potential Hunt has. Right now, he gives them more depth on the defensive line, but he could turn into an elite pass-rusher himself. That's already a lot of talent, and this look at the draft doesn't even include potential steals like Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Clint Boling, Brandon Thompson and others.
A lot of the players Edwards mentions make up a versatile offense that he believes is one of the better qualities of the Bengals in 2013. He focuses a lot on what Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert bring to the offense.
Eifert should be one of Dalton's favorite targets beginning early in the season. He's the classic matchup-nightmare tight end who is too tall and strong for CBs to cover but too fast for LBs to keep up with. And defenses will have to decide whether to move into the nickel or stay in base packages against the two-TE sets. If they go to nickel, the Bengals can run the ball; if they stay in base, Cincinnati can flex Eifert or Bernard out and get a favorable matchup.
Edwards is echoing the thoughts of a lot of fans in Cincinnati; the Bengals are deep on both sides of the football. The potential is stronger than ever. What Edwards is observing on the roster may not be new insight, but he's confident that the Bengals will take over the AFC North in 2013 - and that is what is setting him apart from a lot of analysts out there that still view the Steelers and Ravens as division leaders.