Offense: Where have you gone,
|2011 NFL kickoff|
|Other AFC North previews|
|NFL coverage on the go|
Defense: There is talent on this side of the ball, players such as corner Leon Hall, defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson and linebackers Keith Rivers and Rey Maualuga, but they all have to play to the level of expectations if the Bengals are to improve. The Bengals were 25th in yards per play last season and 27th in sacks per pass play. They have to get more pressure. Dunlap came on late last season to get 8 1/2 sacks, but they need more than that and he needs help. The secondary lost corner Johnathan Joseph to the Texans in free agency, and that will be felt. Nate Clements, who takes over, isn't in the same class as Joseph anymore. Hall is the top player in the secondary. Safety Reggie Nelson appears to have revitalized his career after flopping as a first-round pick in Jacksonville.
Coaching and schemes: Coach Marvin Lewis has not won a playoff game in eight years with Cincinnati. The fact Lewis is starting a rookie quarterback could help him stay in 2012. For a coach with a defensive pedigree, his defense hasn't been good enough, either. Mike Zimmer, the coordinator, is also a good coach. But the results aren't there. New offensive coordinator Jay Gruden will use more of a West Coast-style of offense. That should play to Dalton's strengths, which is getting the ball out quick.
Outlook: With Palmer, they push for a playoff berth. Without him, they might be picking first next April. That's the value of the quarterback position. If Dalton can get it going, the Bengals might be a tough team in the second half. There is young talent on the roster. The growing pains won't be fun.
Predicted finish: 3-13, fourth in AFC North.