The Cincinnati Bengals were one of the surprises of the NFL last year as they won the AFC North at 10-6 and swept the other three division opponents. It was the first season the Bengals reached double-digit wins since 2005.
In my opinion, it was all a mirage.
The Bengals closed the regular season losing three of four games – all against playoff teams – and then were pretty well dominated in a 24-14 home loss to the Jets in the wild-card round. Cincy’s point differential was just +14 last season, by far the worst of the division winners (in fairness, that’s skewed by a regular-season finale blowout loss to the Jets in a game that meant basically nothing for the Bengals).
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But at least this team did show it can be fairly good when Carson Palmer stays healthy, as he did in 2009. And Cedric Benson was a revelation, rushing for 837 yards and six touchdowns in the first eight games before hurting his hip and missing most of three games. He still finished with 1,251 yards on 301 carries. The Bengals became a running time, as they kept it on the ground for 52 percent of their plays. With Benson and Bernard Scott this team should be in good shape there.
Cincy did add two weapons for Palmer in signing Bucs free agent Antonio Bryant – over Terrell Owens -- to be the No. 2 guy, alongside Chad Ochocinco, and drafting Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham in the first round. The passing game definitely needs to spread the field better this season after finishing 26th last year. Palmer, while his stats were just middle of the pack, did lead the offense on eight late-game scoring drives that either gave the Bengals the lead or tied a game.
The defense should again be a very good unit, and it will be need to be for an offense that scored as many as 24 points in just three games. The defense ranked fourth in the league last year in yards per game allowed at 301.4 and sixth in points per game allowed at 18.2. And that unit gets back defensive end Antwan Odom, who was tearing it up with eight sacks before rupturing his Achilles tendon in Week 6.
Cincinnati isn’t exactly a team accustomed to success as it hasn’t made the postseason or even had a winning record in back-to-back seasons in 28 years. And for some reason, the Bengals, who finally had cleaned up their image, signed character risks in WR Matt Jones and CB Pacman Jones.
Can they get back to the playoffs? Let’s take a look:
2010 Cincinnati Bengals Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, at New England, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, at Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3, at Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 24, at Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 31, Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Monday, Nov. 8, Pittsburgh, 8:30 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14, at Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 25, at NY Jets, 8:20 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, at Pittsburgh, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 19, Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 26, San Diego, 8:20 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, at Baltimore, 1:00 PM
This is not an easy schedule, with Cincy’s ranking as the fourth-toughest with an opponents’ 2009 cumulative win percentage of .539 (138-118). At least the team has no West Coast trips, with the furthest trip west being Indianapolis.
It’s a rough start and ending with four of the first six on the road – Cincy was 4-4 away from home last year -- and four of the final six against 2009 playoff teams. That three in four stretch to start on the road is only the second time in franchise history Cincy has had to start that way. And it opens on the road for the fifth time in the past six years. Frankly, the Bengals will be lucky not to start 0-3 – and, remember, they may not have Benson for a few games if Commissioner Roger Goodell suspends him for his recent arrest. I predict a 2-3 record heading into the bye week.
The Bengals better be no worse than .500 after their next five-game stretch with such a tough final six staring them in the face. Here’s a good stat: In that Nov. 8 to Dec. 26 stretch, the Bengals play five games against quarterbacks that finished in the top six in NFL passing last year and the Jets’ Mark Sanchez beat them twice last year. That Thanksgiving game is the first in Bengals history, but it sure seems the Jets have their number. The elements might help the Bengals against warm-weather/dome teams like New Orleans and San Diego in December (a month the Chargers excel in), but no way they sweep Pittsburgh and Baltimore again.
BetUS has the Bengals at +300 to win the AFC North (third-best in the division) and a wins total of eight. I’d go ‘under’ as this looks like a 7-9 team, so obviously don’t waste your money on the division bet.
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