Saturday, December 28, 2013

AFC North Champs

The 2013 Bengals stand at 10-5.  With a victory of the Ravens at home, where they are undefeated this year - and averaging 34 points, the Bengals would finish 11-5, tied for their best record under Marvin Lewis and wrap up the #3 seed (perhaps the #2 seed if New England can somehow manage to lose to Buffalo) in the AFC.

What really matters is the Bengals getting their first playoff win in 22 years.  Marvin Lewis has lost to Pittsburgh (2005) after all star QB Carson Palmer blew his knee out on his first pass attempt, to New York (2009) when their passing attack went into the tank, to Houston (2011) when rookie Andy Dalton threw several picks, and finally to Houston (2012) when Dalton missed hitting a wide open AJ Green by about a foot and a half for a go ahead touch down.

Hopefully, this year will be the Bengals year when they can gain some momentum and go deep into the playoffs.

Regardless, here have been the high lights of the season.

Capitalizing on an excellent draft class again.

Since 2006 the Bengals have only had one clunker of a draft (2008).  These drafts have built a great foundation for the Bengals.  And it's the main reason they are the deepest team in the AFC.

Below is a list of players the Bengals hit on in each draft.

2006 - CB Jonathan Joseph (now an all pro with Houston), LT Andrew Whitworth (still with Bengals and currently moved to right guard), DT Domata Peko (the best defensive tackle on the team not named Geno Atkins).

2007 - CB Leon Hall (an all pro last year, but out this year with a torn tendon).

2008 - a total clunker.  The only prospect still with the Bengals is fourth round LT Anthony Collins (who is starting at LT for the Bengals and doing an excellent job. He is going to rake in millions after the season in fee agency).

2009 - (This is where the Bengals really began to hit in their draft classes). RT Andre Smith (after he began his career with two terrible seasons, Smith has rebounded into one of the better right tackles in football), MLB Ray Maualuga (who had a very mediocre year last year, but has been playing very, very well this season), DE Michael Johnson (who had a career high 10.5 sacks last year and earned the franchise tag from the Bengals), and P Kevin Hubner (who was by far our best special teams player this year until he had his jaw broken in the loss at Pittsburgh).

2010 - TE Jermaine Gresham (an all pro player in 2011 and 2012, despite being frustratingly inconsistent at times), DE Carlos Dunlap (an excellent starting DE for the Bengals this year), DT Geno Atikins (before blowing his knee out this year, Dunlap was the best play at his position in the league).

2011 - WR AJ Green (the best WR in team history. In three years, he has gone to three pro bowls), QB Andy Dalton (love him or hate him (and I'm in both camps), there is no denying that he has won and he has made some big plays. Yes, he will be excellent one week and horrible the next.  But he has led the team to the playoffs more times than any other Bengals quarterback ever has. He just has to win in the playoffs now), OG Clint Boiling (who is a functional starting guard for the Bengals).

2012 - CB Dre Kirkpatrick (inconsistent so far.  If he doesn't pan out at corner though, he would make a fine safety), OG Kevin Zeitler (until an injury this year, Zeitler has started every game for the Bengals), DT Devon Still (has filled in for injured Geno Atkins this year. A solid run-stopper), WR Mohamed Sanu (who has started this year and been solid), DT Brandon Thompson (has actually been better than Still and provided a pass rush in the absence of Atkins), WR Marvin Jones (the second best receiver on the team. When he settles into the offense, he will be the next coming of TJ Houschmanzedah), FS George Iloka (has started all year for the Bengals and been solid).

2013 - TE Tyler Eifter (has split time with Gresham all year. But is a great receiver and better blocker than any could have hope for), RB Gio Bernard (could win rookie of the year for the Bengals. He has split carries with BJGE all year, but he has almost 700 yard rushing and 500 yards receiver and accounted for 9 touchdowns).

Given those solid drafts, the Bengals have a great foundation for continued success.

The only thing that worries me is that their fine coordinators (Jay Gruden on offense and Mike Zimmer on defense) might take head coaching jobs after this season.

Gruden has steadily improved the offense, which is now in the top ten.  Zimmer has always had a solid defense (again in the top five this year).

In no way am I expecting anything like a Super Bowl victory, but it would be nice to see the Bengals have some success in the post season.  After all, the past three Super Bowl champs have all played on Wild Card Weekend.

Still, the Bengals have made the playoffs in four of the past five years.  Despite no wins, when you consider how terrible the Bengals were from 1990-2002, that is saying something!

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