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Bengals mailbag: Josh Malone’s second-year campaign, and Super Bowl chances

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We received a number of questions this week, ranging from the micro to the macro-perspectives. Is a championship season this year too much to expect?

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As the summer months approach, fans of all teams begin to get excited. After the frenzies of free agency and the NFL Draft have passed, the most ardent of followers all have their respective teams going 16-0 in the month of May.

We’ve received a number of great interesting questions from our readers and the listeners of The Orange and Black Insider recently. Some of those queries play on the positivity of the club, but others are simply weighing the options on expectations levels in 2018.

Will Josh Malone break out this year?

As we suggested on The Orange and Black Insider, it depends on one’s determination of “break out”. If we’re wanting a 700-yard, six-touchdown performance from Malone in 2018, that’s not going to happen.

Malone has a lot of talent, as he was known as a “height/weight/speed” guy in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Even though the team had A.J. Green, John Ross and Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd in its pocket, Malone was still a guy that intrigues the Bengals.

For those who were around in the early days of of the Marvin Lewis era, a name like Kelley Washington might ring a bell. And, in the heyday of Carson Palmer, Chris Henry is another ancillary weapon that paid huge dividends in those first handful of Lewis’ years.

Aside from being known for “the squirrel”, Washington had nine touchdown receptions in four Bengals seasons, with 2004’s 31 catches being the apex of his Cincinnati career. Though he took a backseat to Henry when he arrived in 2005, Washington was a valuable weapon in the early 2000s.

Henry was simply more talented and had more big-play potential than Washington. He had 29 touchdown receptions from 2005-2009 in a star-crossed career. Whether it was Washington or Henry, they were still down the totem pole, in terms of many routes in Bob Bratkowski’s tree.

Given Malone’s limited assistance as a rookie (just one touchdown catch), it’s hard to see him rising to his predecessors’ statistical level in year two. However, if he does, isn’t that a “breakout year” for a guy who may end up being the No. 6 or No. 7 receiving option in some packages?

Could the Bengals potentially make a Super Bowl run this year?

Let’s slow the roll, shall we? If you’re asking CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports, ESPN and/or NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” program, this question is an absolute joke.

But, Carlos isn’t asking those national media outlets. He’s asking those of us who are a bit closer to the Cincinnati Bengals, for better or worse.

As we sit here in May, the prospect of the Bengals making a run to the Lombardi Trophy is ludicrous. Aside from Marvin Lewis’ own warts as the team’s head coach, there are so many questions on this roster.

Wide receivers Malone and John Ross are question marks, as is Tyler Eifert. And if that wasn’t enough, the offensive line is still a major work in progress—from players to position coach.

However, what if “the if’s” pay off?

If Ross can be the explosive No. 2 or No. 3 receiver in this offense, the AFC North should be on its heels. What if Eifert is actually healthy for the majority of the year? What if Cordy Glenn and Billy Price solidify a beleaguered line?

All of a sudden, this team is a threat. We’re pretty certain, based on last year’s personnel, that the defense will be pretty decent—especially with the big-play talent they’ve added this year.

When you look at Marvin Lewis squads and the blueprint for offenses, both 2005 and 2015 are the archetypes. Still, if “the if’s” play out positively for the team this year, this offense is quietly one of the better ones in the league.

Yes, it’s going to depend on health and the ability of these immensely-talented players, and yes it’s going to hinge on the improvement of the offensive line. But, it’s also going to reside in the coaching staff.

Lewis’ issues aside from getting the team to the promised land, this looks to be a very talented team and one that continues to be overlooked by the national media.

But, Super Bowl?

I’m not ruling that out per se, but literally everything that must go right for the Bengals in 2018 has to fall into place. And, quite frankly, that’s asking a lot, so it’s difficult to proclaim the squad NFL Champions as we sit here in May.

Oh, but those crazy “what if’s”...

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