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Bengals poised for increased in-division success in 2015?

While the Bengals have made the playoffs each of the past four years, they still have trudged through the division with mediocre results. MMQB's Robert Klemko gives some interesting observations in his Training Camp report.

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While Peter King is a famous and well-respected sports journalist, he can be awfully tough on the Bengals. Over the years while on the national stage, King has asserted himself as a New England Patriots apologist, who continuously gushes about the Patriots, while seemingly being a bit tough on Cincinnati.

Few seem to remember that King started with The Cincinnati Enquirer covering the Bengals in the 1980s. While his propping up of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and disparaging of the Bengals at times gets tiresome, it's hard to blame him, given the disparity of success of both franchises.

Nonetheless, it's been a changing of the tune over at King's MMQB site and their mothership, Sports Illustrated, of late. Whether it's the preseason crowning of Andy Dalton as the 2015 AFC North MVP, or Robert Klemko paying nice compliments to Bengals safety George Iloka, some positive press has Who Dey Nation feeling pretty good about their football team.

Klemko recently spent some time with Cincinnati during training camp, namely a scrimmage, and jotted down some thoughts about the club. And, wouldn't you know, it's another positive spin for the team and their quest for a championship in 2015.

My personal favorite:

1. They’re hungrier than I’ve ever seen them. I’ve been in the Bengals locker room a number of times in the last three years, and something’s different this time around. To a man, they’re tired of the Andy Dalton questions after four straight years of one-and-done playoff appearances. They’ve owned these playoff failures as a product of the collective. Perhaps safety George Iloka said it best: "Our playoff losses have been team losses, not on one particular person. There’s no, I lost or he lost. We all lost… When we got to the playoffs, nobody took their game to the next level."

For those who have frequented Cincy Jungle over the past few years, you probably have seen some pieces on the site (mostly by me) discussing the Bengals' need to play "hangry" (hungry and angry), as well as their morphing into bullies. After all, the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers have internalized this mantra and have each won a Super Bowl during the past seven seasons.

The above-mentioned statistic, along with the Bengals' five playoff berths over the past six seasons, shows the perennial strength of the AFC North division. If you think we're leaving out the Cleveland Browns from the strength discussion, you're wrong, as the Dawgs have split the series with the resurgent Bengals each of the last three seasons.

To this point, Klemko ends his report with an interesting remark:

Gut feeling about the Bengals: I could see three playoff teams coming out of the AFC North again (last year, the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals all made it). I could also see the Nov. 1 and Dec. 13 meetings between the Bengals and the Steelers deciding who gets the wild card and who watches from home. My gut says the Bengals sweep that matchup, if anybody’s going to sweep it, but that’s a projection based on several players coming back from injury (Geno Atkins included). Prediction: 9-7.

The last time the Bengals swept the Steelers was the crazy 2009 year, where six of the Bengals' 10 wins came from an AFC North sweep. In the Dalton era, the Bengals are just 11-13 in divisional play, with a 2-6 record against the Steelers and a 4-4 record against the Ravens. Their recent record against Pittsburgh, and really overall since Marvin Lewis has been the team's coach makes Klemko's prediction both exciting and surprising.

Sandwiched between those two items are thoughts like Rex Burkhead being one of Klemko's favorite players at camp, Geno Atkins looking like his 2012-2013 form while keeping quiet from the media, P.J. Dawson showing "flashes of brilliance" in practice and there being "little doubt for Michael Johnson's availability for the season" after suffering a knee ligament sprain.