It's irrefutable that the Cincinnati Bengals have bombed when it comes to the playoffs. Dreadfully, even. People will point their blame sticks at Andy Dalton, but the running game is dead and the defense suddenly crumbles. Quarterbacks don't win games on their own and Cincinnati's team concept shows on the losing end of self-respectability in the postseason. So for the fourth-straight year, this is a "something to prove" season.
That said, the Bengals are pretty good when it comes to the regular season. And people are respecting that.
Sports Illustrated previewed every division in the league with a prediction on each division's running order. The Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens are first and second, interchangeably. Chris Burke has Cincinnati ranked second, behind the Ravens.
Even as I submit these preseason picks, the AFC North stands out as problematic. The Browns, while they should be more competitive, are a year away on account of Josh Gordon's suspension (plus the lack of depth behind him) and their unsettled QB situation. Any of the other three teams could take the division or nab a playoff spot. If Baltimore's run game is really back on track behind O.C. Gary Kubiak, it will be a 10-win team. Cincinnati doesn't stand out as being any better than it was in 2013, and Pittsburgh still has too many question marks in the trenches.
It's not like we're talking about improving an 11-win team...
Doug Farrer doesn't really hold contest in the division, labeling the Bengals first.
The Bengals will win this division again; from there, it's up to newly-paid Andy Dalton to finally prove that he can do anything in the playoffs. Baltimore should see a serious improvement in their formerly anemic run game with new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, though the passing game may take a step back. This could be the year that the Steelers, unable to jump over .500 in the last two seasons, start to pay for a number of average drafts; the Browns might rank third here if they had any idea what to do with their quarterback position. Cleveland's defense is one to watch, though.