If you haven’t noticed, the Bengals are suddenly becoming the darlings of the NFL. Most Bengals faithful would gladly offer arguments over the details. They would also be inclined to mention that most people (analysts and long time doubters) are merely getting set to jump on the bandwagon. After five current players made the NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2016 list, there’s a chance that the Bengals will be an AFC North force.
Geno Atkins was recently ranked at No. 29 on the list. He joins Carlos Dunlap, Tyler Eifert, Andy Dalton, and Andrew Whitworth on the prestigious listing. If Reggie Nelson were still a member of the Bengals franchise, he would make the count an even half-dozen. During the free agent period, Nelson left to bask on the sunny beaches of Raider Nation.
With so many appearances on the list, the Bengals look like the hands down AFC North favorite. But, it takes more than just names on a list to win another division crown. The Bengals will need to deliver. The scenario has been the same for six years. Bengals brass annually builds a competitive team. Throughout the regular season, the Bengals win with ease. Yet, the postseason always tosses a monkey wrench into the program.
ICYMI: Geno Atkins was voted as number 29 in the “Top 100 Players of 2016” #LetsRoar
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) June 25, 2016
How will they perform this year? If the “list” is any indication, the Bengals should have the juice to take the AFC North and possibly present fans with an elusive playoff win.
The defense will be sound. Bengals brass was able to keep the core of last year’s championship-caliber unit intact. The losses were minimal, compared to what could have happened. Losing Emmanuel Lamur, Wallace Gilberry, and Nelson shouldn’t be a problem. With a foundation of young and hungry hopefuls, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther will have the building blocks for more success.
Bengals’ defensive line coach Jacob Burney will definitely have the studs. Rotating players will be a key factor to the dominance of the D. Keeping a fresh wave of bodies coming will be hard on opposing offenses.
“In today’s game, if you think you’re going to stick four out there and they’re just going to play those 85 plays for you in today’s NFL, that’s not happening,” Burney explained, per Cincinnati Bengals.
“So you’ve got to get more than that ready to play. You’ve got to get seven ready to play. And then you can’t be afraid to put them in there.”
How will the offense work its dominance into the picture? Historically, the Bengals are a strong offensive team. When football purists think of the Orange and Black, it’s usually in terms of moving the ball. New offensive coordinator Ken Zampese will have a ball with Dalton. The Red Rifle’s maturity will surely mesh with Zampese and provide plenty of fireworks.
So far, Zampese and Dalton are on the same page. It’s about the end result. The bond that the two offensive minds create is paramount. There has to be a trusting relationship that goes beyond words. They have to build a mental connection. Zampese stressed the importance, per the Cincinnati Enquirer.
“Oh, absolutely. Relationships is where it all starts. So the farther along you are with that, the better off you’re going to be as you implement whatever you want to do.”
Going into the 2016 season, the Bengals are loaded with talent and potential. Last year, NBC analyst Tony Dungy shocked more than a few people. He claimed that the Bengals would beat the Patriots in a playoff game. That bold statement was an example of how perception of the Bengals has changed. Now, they have the talent to back such predictions. If not for a broken thumb, the prophecy may have come true.
Cincinnati has the talent and ability to take their winning to another level. The dominance of the AFC North should be just the beginning. The Bengals are capable of so much more.
[Photo by Gary Landers/AP]