The Bengals are running back to HBO's Hard Knocks for the 2013 season, appearing on the popular preseason football documentary just four years after they were featured before the 2009 season.
Many labeled this choice a boring retread (I think otherwise personally), but there might be a much smarter motivation for having the team back on the show -- owner Mike Brown believes that 2009's appearance changed the way people viewed the Bengals.
"What we found when we did that show was people saw us differently," Brown told FOXSports.com's Alex Marvez. “They saw us more positively. They saw us as just people."
While it's impossible to speak for Bengals fans or NFL fans in general, I'd say that Brown's assertion of the Bengals -- as well as any team that appears on Hard Knocks -- is accurate. (I say this in all seriousness: My wife doesn't care for football but watched the Jets on Hard Knocks and came to kind of love a few players on that roster because of the show. Same thing with the Dolphins last year.)
Of course, the Bengals are an entirely different story. They've been called the "Bungles" for years (ha ha?) and many believed they took too many chances on lower-character players for a significant amount of time. (That stereotype still prevails to a degree, even though Cincy's eased back from those sort of gambles over the last few years.)
Brown understands this.
"We sometimes are portrayed as almost villainous,” Brown said. “The players are sometimes thought to be selfish or even criminal. I'm going to the far end of the spectrum there, but we get some very difficult criticism.
"I'd like to think we aren't that way. It isn't that we're anything so special, but we're just ordinary folks, if you will. If people would come and look, I think that's what they would see. I think for the most part that's what they did see. We surprised people a little bit."
They certainly did, and there's a good bet that Cincy will surprise people as well in 2013. They appear to be a pretty sexy sleeper team this season -- and with good reason. They're stacked on defense -- quiet superstar Geno Atkins, franchise player Michael Johnson and recently renewed Carlos Dunlap forming a powerful defensive line; Rey Maualuga, Vontaze Burfict and James Harrison are a story-filled linebacking corps and Leon Hall, Reggie Nelson, Dre Kirkpatrick and Pacman Jones help form an explosive secondary.
Offensively, the Bengals have two of my favorite rookies in running back Giovani Bernard and tight end Tyler Eifert, a quarterback in Andy Dalton who might be overrated and underrated at the same time, a top-five receiver in A.J. Green and a very undervalued offensive line anchored by Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith.
In short, there are a lot of folks who might go from viewing the Bengals as the red-headed step-brother of the AFC North to a charismatic contender after their next appearance on Hard Knocks. Which is exactly what Brown's banking on.