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Cincinnati Bengals 2013 Season Preview

If you're not looking forward to the Cincinnati Bengals season, then you're not alive, nor do you thrive on being the eternal pessimist. We take a look at the upcoming season in a series of questions.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Who is the easiest player on the roster to root for?

Hard Knocks actually saturates the discussion somewhat, as it changes our perspectives. Instead of reading names on digital paper, along with the infrequent interviews with the team's most popular players, fans have a greater array of players to root for.

Now, obviously rooting for everyone on the team is a given, especially someone that's trying to help your bottom line as a fan? Geno Atkins is one of the league's best defensive tackles; certainly the best playing a three-technique. A.J. Green has a talent level that's nearly unapproachable, save for those that have already established themselves as the elite receivers in the game. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict, rookie running back Giovani Bernard, tight end Tyler Eifert, and even quarterback Andy Dalton are easy players to root for, from an individual perspective. We could list the entire roster.

You have your favorite younger players that you're hoping to succeed, from second-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick who was forced to virtually red-shirt his rookie season with injuries, only to suffer a humiliating preseason defeat against wide receiver Dez Bryant. What about veteran defensive tackle Domata Peko, easily one of the "good guys" on the team, not only featured as a great family guy, but a mentor to younger players with enough in the tank to be an effective shield for the team's linebackers. Or maybe the Brandon Tate "I proved everyone wrong" campaign. One of our favorites Andrew Whitworth, after two years of decline, anticipates playing without the pain that affected his play -- once he rehabilitates his surgically repaired knee, of course.

There's so many stories that apply to everyone on the roster. But when you see how this team interacts, their camaraderie, all coming together with a single-minded goal of championship, it's easy to root for 'em all.


Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

If you could buy a ticket to just one game this year...

Considering the level of competition coming into Paul Brown Stadium this year, it's hard to say. Just glance at the schedule with the Steelers, Packers, Ravens, Patriots, Colts, and Vikings coming into town this year, rounded out by teams like the Jets and Browns. Who would you pick?

To me, it's easy.

There's nothing like a Monday Night Football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers with the Cincinnati skyline silhouetting our team at night. The implications are always huge, especially for an aging Pittsburgh team seeking revenge after a week 16 loss last year. And it wasn't just any loss. When Josh Brown converted the game-winning field goal to secure a postseason berth, it eliminated the Steelers from the playoffs. Icing on the cake, as they say. For the Bengals, it was the best regular season win, not for the eventual berth into the postseason, but because of who it came against. Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau will use this, motivating his team to take revenge on Monday Night Football where the Bengals haven't' won since '07.

Looking at the schedule, we're envisioning something along the lines of 12-4, and some of those losses are predicated on familiar tones of an unfamiliar era. Like the New England Patriots, who the Bengals haven't beaten since '01, winning seven of the past eight meetings dating back to '93. Yet, much has happened in New England to suggest wavering confidence that the Patriots typically have every year. But do you bet against Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the New England Patriots? Better yet, do you bet on the Bengals who have struggled against better teams, especially the Patriots?

Date Opponent Time (ET) My Picks
Sep. 8 at Chicago 1 p.m.
Sep. 16 Pittsburgh 8:40 p.m.
Sep. 22 Green Bay 1 p.m.
Sep. 29 at Cleveland 1 p.m.
Oct. 6 New England 1 p.m.
Oct. 13 at Buffalo 1 p.m.
Oct. 20 at Detroit 1 p.m.
Oct. 27 N.Y. Jets 4:05 p.m.
Oct. 31 at Miami 8:25 p.m.
Nov. 10 at Baltimore 1 p.m.
Nov. 17 Cleveland 1 p.m.
Dec. 1 at San Diego 4:25 p.m.
Dec. 8 Indianapolis 1 p.m.
Dec. 15 at Pittsburgh 8:30 p.m.
Dec. 22 Minnesota 1 p.m.
Dec. 29 Baltimore 1 p.m.
2013 Projected Record: 12-4

Every time that Cincinnati has won 12 games in a regular season, they've gone on to play in the Super Bowl.

Which veterans could be cut before the season due to salary cap issues?

Luckily, the Cincinnati Bengals aren't pressed to make any moves related to the salary cap. They have room, with nearly $10 million rolled into next year to help with negotiations concerning wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton. By the time new contracts with Carlos Dunlap, and hopefully with Geno Atkins, the cash-weighty deals will begin to expire -- or set the stage for cap friendly extensions with guys like Andrew Whitworth, Leon Hall, and Domata Peko. Additionally, over $11 million will come off the books next year when Michael Johnson's franchise tag expires. Ultimately I don't see any moves strictly related to the salary cap at this point.


Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Which second year player is going to make the biggest leap?

Mohamed Sanu is looking to resume his impressive redzone production from last season, scoring four times in a span of three games that helped transform Cincinnati's inconsistent offense into a team that comfortably secured wins. (even before half time) We're not talking about 10-15 receptions per game, or 200 yards receiving. That's not Sanu's style. Yet, when the Bengals needed to convert a third down or score a touchdown in tight coverage, Sanu was an all-star Power Forward in the post. Once he suffered a season-ending injury during practice, the Bengals struggled to put up another 30 spot for the rest of the year.

George Iloka, a safety drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL draft, may go from infrequent special teams participant to starting strong safety, impressively stepping through the door that was made available to him this spring. Paving the way for the ultimate story of an opportunist, Iloka eventually suffered a setback when he punched Jordan Campbell in the head, while still wearing his helmet. Iloka isn't just recovering from an injury, he's tasked with setting things right with the coaching staff, who had to remind their second-year safety that his actions not only hurt himself, but the team as a whole.

What are the odds of your head coach getting fired?

Zero. Zilch. Negative one percent even. Marvin Lewis is signed through 2014, has implemented real change and worked beautifully not only with the front office, but the team's scouting department as evident by the team's recent drafts. Making the playoffs in three of the past four years, and for the first time in 30 years, earning consecutive postseason berths, adds to a resume that will probably earn another extension before this contract expires.


Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

What franchise or NFL records could be broken this season?

As long as A.J. Green remains healthy, there's no record associated with wide receivers that's safe. Currently, T.J. Houshmandzadeh holds the franchise mark with 112 grabs. Chad Johnson holds the team-record with 1,440 yards receiving and Carl Pickens scored a ridiculous amount of touchdowns (17) in 1995. Cincinnati's record book will become A.J. Green's playground.

But why not the franchise record for most touchdowns thrown in a season for Andy Dalton?

Now with two significant receiving threats at tight end in Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham, joined by wide receivers A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, and Andrew Hawkins and Giovani Bernard sneaking out of the backfield, it would seem to us that a mediocre season for Dalton could still produce record numbers.

Consider that Dalton generated 27 touchdowns last season, and that was during a year that most fans were frustrated by his inconsistency. He fell only five touchdowns short of the team record set by Carson Palmer in '05. Can you imagine that number during a good year? Well, a good year defined by the media and fans?


Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Which rookies will see regular playing time this year?

Tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard won't be king's on the depth chart, but as significant contributors, you might as well ditch the need for labeling someone a starter. It won't matter. Regardless, Eifert could actually become a regular starter by week one anyway, not as the team's primary tight end, rather as the third wide receiver or second tight end depending on the team's formation when the play is called.

Since the team's rookie minicamp, Shawn WIlliams has slowly adjusted into his role in the NFL and even posted a team-high ten tackles against the Tennessee Titans earlier this preseason. Starting quality? Maybe. Things with Taylor Mays needs to be figured out, but we don't think it'll take long for Williams to surpass Mays on the depth chart. That leaves second-year safety George Iloka, who went from prodigal safety to doghouse recipient after breaking his hand trying to punch Jordan Campbell, who was still wearing his helmet. Will he have to work himself back?

Margus Hunt will need to develop and Cobi Hamilton seems like a prospect with a bright future; both will be buried on their respective depth charts for now (if Hamilton makes the 53-man cut). Running back Rex Burkhead figures more as a special teams contributor.

Predict the order of finish in your division.

Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns