Cincinnati lost nine starters from the regular season opener in 2010, six of whom haven't found new homes yet. While addition by subtraction favors the hopeful, there will be an adjusted period that requires patience to build cohesion. This team is incorporating a rookie quarterback, rookie wide receiver with a very inexperienced wide receiver group that are executing plays called by a rookie offensive coordinator.
A realistic prognosticator would suggest something in the neighborhood of three to five wins, mostly as a result of the team's turnover in personnel. Then you examine the team's 2011 schedule, opening the season against teams with a first-year head coach in Cleveland, Denver and San Francisco. Four of the first five games are played against defenses that ranked 20th or worse last season and the first game they play against a team that sported a winning record in 2010 isn't until mid-October.
So on one hand, the basis of a roster turnover that's rebuilding with youth could promote the suggestion of a five-win season or worse. On the other hand, the ease of the schedule against teams similarly rebuilding may generate surprise for more than six wins.
Best Game On The Schedule
Cincinnati's regular season home opener against the San Francisco 49ers during week three may be one of interest. The Bengals signed cornerback Nate Clements, linebacker Manny Lawsonand acquired safety Taylor Mays from the 49ers. Clements is expected to start opposite of Leon Hall after the team lost Johnathan Joseph to free agency. Manny Lawson will start as the strong-side linebacker in 4-3 base formations (played some as a defensive end in nickel packages during the preseason) while Taylor Mays may be incorporated as a special teams player developing into an eventual contributor in the secondary. It's not hard to imagine that all three players are circling this game on their calendar.
Player Who Takes A Step Back This Year
As a rookie Carlos Dunlap posted 9.5 quarterback sacks, mostly all accumulated during the second half of last year's regular season. A bum knee has held him out of the preseason this year, which is generating relative concern about his health. Even when he returns, opposing offenses will focus more on stopping Dunlap now that they know he's the team's best pass rusher. Yet that's also dependant on other players, such as defensive tackle Geno Atkins, not taking a step back or Michael Johnson and Jonathan Fanene not contributing to the pass rush.
Breakout Player Candidates
Bernard Scott is entering his third year in the NFL; a very dynamic runner that's talented enough to be a style closer to Chris Johnson than the workhorse of Cedric Benson. With the offense regenerating a run-first attitude within their base philosophy, the team will want to spell Benson to give Scott more carries and opportunities to catch the football out of the backfield, allowing him to make plays in open space.
Bengals offensive coordinator reflected on Scott's 12-yard touchdown run against the Carolina Panthers during the third week of the regular season:
"He ran a power play on his touchdown and there's an unblocked guy standing right in front of him. He just cut it. The guy wouldn't have even pulled his flag in flag football; that's how quick it was."
After posting three career receptions during the first ten games in the NFL through three seasons, wide receiver Jerome Simpson was granted an opportunity to play when Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens went down with injuries towards the end of the 2010 regular season. Simpson exploded with 18 receptions for 247 yards receiving and three touchdowns receiving in the final two games. Though his preseason in 2011 has been limited to two receptions through the first three games, Simpson, who is impressing people with his blocking, figures to be a crucial receiver while opposing defenses focus on the more athletic and dynamic A.J. Green.
Best Player On The Team Others Haven't Heard Of
Backup defensive tackle Clinton McDonald is having one of the better preseasons this year, tied for third-most tackles on the team, with a shared sack and forced fumble. Due to his work since training camp, along with financial and injury considerations, the Bengals felt comfortable releasing veteran defensive tackle Tank Johnson. Joining Domata Peko and Pat Sims in a rotation of defensive tackles against the run, McDonald increases the team's overall ability to stop the run up the middle.
Bengals Player Who Is Underrated
Jordan Shipley is perhaps one of the more underrated players on the team. Fans know about him and appreciate him, but it's the starting wide receivers A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson that receive the most attention. Shipley isn't just one of the best route runners on the team, he's as smart as they come, understanding what defenses are trying to do, often finding a gap in the coverage.
Shipley and fellow rookie Jermaine Gresham led all AFC rookies with 52 receptions last season - Shipley also led all AFC rookies with 600 yards receiving. He currently leads the team with 10 receptions through three preseason games.
Fantasy Football Outlook
Cincinnati isn't going to be very strong offensively, at least early. Even though they're focusing more on the run this year, much like they did during their AFC North championship season in 2009, the team historically hasn't had a strong red zone presence. That being said the player we could see being the most effective in fantasy football would be A.J. Green, who posted a 40-yard touchdown reception against the Carolina Panther during the preseason, and Jermaine Gresham, who is arguably one of the league's best up-and-coming tight ends with a valid claim to be a red zone threat.
Best Media Personality In Cincinnati
Now that Chad Ochocinco is gone, Cincinnati is left with boring players that have a strong hunger to win and nothing more.
Best Players To Follow On Twitter
Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga and defensive tackle Domata Peko, only because they're the type of personalities that encourage fans after a deflating loss.