For just the third time since 1990, the Cincinnati Bengals made it to the NFL Playoffs last year. The Bengals lost, 31-10, to the Houston Texans in their playoff opener, but the season was still a major success. Before the season, the Bengals were expected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL. The team snuck up on a lot of people in 2011, and they did it with some solid young talent.
Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton turned out to be a nice leader for the Bengals offense. Rookie wide receiver A.J. Green made the Pro Bowl, and he looks like a budding star. Cincinnati’s defense stepped up in a big way in the 2011 season. The Bengals were one of the top defenses in the league until injuries slowed them down a bit toward the end of the season.
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Before getting too high on the Bengals, we have to remember that this team didn’t defeat a team that made the playoffs all year in 2011. Cincinnati beat the teams that they should beat, but not beating a single team that made the postseason makes you wonder if the Bengals overachieved a bit last year.
The Bengals did a lot to help themselves in the 2012 NFL Draft thanks to several extra draft picks from the Carson Palmer deal with Oakland. Still, the Bengals play in a very tough AFC North. Can Cincinnati build on last year’s success?
After Carson Palmer threatened his way out of town, Dalton was handed the keys to the Bengals offense. The TCU graduate did a tremendous job managing the game and helping this team win close games in 2011. There is some concern, though, because Dalton struggled in the last few games of the season. He threw for more than 190 yards only twice in December and January, and he threw three interceptions in the playoff loss to Houston. Dalton still has plenty to prove, but the team just needs him to continue to make steady progress.
Cedric Benson was the main offseason loss for the Bengals. Benson was a solid starter for the Bengals in the past four years so they’ll need someone to step up and fill his shoes. The team signed BenJarvus Green-Ellis to be their primary back this year. Green-Ellis should get more carries than he did in his time with the Patriots, and his amazing ball security is a major plus. Bernard Scott and Daniel Herron should get some carries as his primary backups.
Green snagged 65 catches in his rookie season. He already looks like a ready-made superstar. Don’t be surprised if he quickly becomes one of the top three or four receivers in the NFL. The issue for Cincinnati could be who will start opposite of Green on the outside. Jerome Simpson left for Minnesota in the offseason. Jordan Shipley still isn’t completely healthy after tearing his ACL last season. Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones may be counted on to produce some in their rookie seasons. Also, Jermaine Gresham will need to be a major producer from the tight end spot.
Cincinnati is stacked along the offensive line. Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith are the stars of the line, but the Bengals really don’t have a weak spot all along this offensive front. Travelle Wharton was brought in over the offseason, and he’ll replace Nate Livings in what looks like a nice upgrade for this unit.
It really was the Bengals defense that led the team to the playoffs last season. Mike Zimmer is one of the best defensive coordinators in the game. Zimmer’s defense is tough for teams to prepare for, because they have so many different looks and players to plug in to different spots. Depth is a major strength for the Bengals on this side of the ball. Cincinnati finished in the Top 10 in the NFL in total defense last year.
The defensive front doesn’t have any one dominating player, but they do have multiple guys who are very solid players. Gino Atkins picked up an amazing 8.5 tackles from his defensive tackle spot in 2011. Carlos Dunlap started to show why the Bengals were so high on him last year, and he’ll get even more chances to get after the passer in 2012. Domata Peko is a great run-stuffer in the middle of the line.
Rey Maualuga should be the leader of this defense from his middle linebacker spot. He played with injuries quite often last year, but he should be fully healthy for the start of 2012. Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard aren’t spectacular on the outside, but they don’t make many mistakes.
Leon Hall’s injury severely limited this defense in the latter stages of last season. He hasn’t been cleared to play yet, and he might not be fully healthy this season. Hall’s health is one of the main reasons the Bengals drafted Dre Kirkpatrick in the first round of this year’s draft. In addition, the team signed Jason Allen and Terrence Newmen for depth. Nate Clements is a solid starter at the other cornerback spot. The Bengals appear set at corner, but the safety spots are question marks. Taylor Mays and Reggie Nelson are the starters right now, but they are a major liability at the back end of this defense.
2012 Cincinnati Bengals Schedule Analysis
The Bengals were helped by an easier schedule in 2011, but they won’t be so fortunate this season. Cincinnati’s season opener will come on Monday Night Football in Baltimore on Sept. 10.
The Bengals absolutely need to start the season well, because their schedule is brutally tough down the stretch. The Bengals play San Diego, Dallas, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore in the last five weeks of the regular season.
One of the major downsides of being in the AFC North is that the Bengals must play Pittsburgh and Baltimore twice each year.
2012 Cincinnati Bengals Futures Odds
Bookmaker lists Cincinnati at +2,800 to win Super Bowl XLVII. They price the Bengals at +1,500 to win the AFC Conference.
Bovada lists the Bengals at +400 to win the difficult AFC North. Bookmaker has put the Bengals “over/under” for season wins at eight games. The under is a small favorite at -125.
BetOnline has the Bengals listed as a six-point underdog in their season opener at Baltimore.
2012 Cincinnati Bengals Predictions
Cincinnati wasn’t quite as good as their record showed last season, but this is definitely a team on the rise. Unfortunately for the Bengals, the schedule is much more difficult in 2012. The Bengals will likely be an underdog in each of their last five games of the season. If this team doesn’t jump out to an early impressive record, they won’t make the playoffs this year.
The improved depth from this year’s draft should help the Bengals in future years, but most of these guys won’t be ready to contribute in their first year. Cincinnati will likely be just as strong of a team as they were a year ago, but they’ll probably have less wins at the end of the season.
The under looks like the best value since it is hard to imagine this team winning more than eight games with this brutal schedule. Don’t expect the Bengals to fall to the bottom of the pack again though; this season is more than likely just a one-year dip toward the downside.
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