The Cincinnati Bengals a perennial contender?
Don't look now but this much-maligned franchise has been fairly consistent as of late. Led by head coach Marvin Lewis, the team has been to the playoffs two straight years and three of the last four seasons. And if the club can get back to the postseason in 2013, it would mark a first for the organization.
Of course, winning a playoff game would be a step in the right direction, something the Bengals haven't done since the 1990 season, the longest active drought in the NFL.
Still, you have to get there to win or lose.
And the Cincinnati Bengals will be in the playoffs for a third straight year...
If: The Cincinnati defense picks up where it left off last season. Even if you include the team's playoff loss at Houston, the Bengals limited each of its final nine opponents to 20 or fewer points, and over that span the defensive unit surrendered only nine touchdowns in as many contests. Combine the fact that the team, led by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins and emerging pass rusher Michael Johnson, finished third in the NFL with 51 sacks and Mike Zimmer's unit could be on the verge of some big things in 2013.
And: Unheralded running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has another strong stretch run. The one-time New England Patriots performer totaled 100-plus yards on the ground in four of his last six regular-season appearances and finished with 1,094 rushing. In the team's first nine games last season, Green-Ellis ran the ball at least 20 times just twice and failed to reach the century mark in terms of rushing yards.
But: Quarterback Andy Dalton needs to bounce back from a forgettable performance in the wild card loss to the Houston Texans and play like he did in the second half of 2012. The two-year pro threw 13 touchdown passes and was picked off just five times during the Bengals' 7-1 finish. And that was in stark contrast to his first eight games of 2012, when he threw nearly as many interceptions (11) as touchdown passes (14) and was picked off at least once in each of those contests.
So what do you think? With both the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers apparently in transition and the Cleveland Browns with yet another new head coach, can the Bengals grab their first division title since 2009? Or will the continued failures in the playoffs start to take their toll on the psyche of Lewis' club?
Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country, can be heard on Yahoo! Sports Radio and many other networks and was blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.
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