Today's absurd prediction:
Carson Palmer gets back in the Pro Bowl and the Bengals get back in the playoffs.
I have the Bengals' season resulting in a tie with an AFC West team for the second wild-card spot (trying not to ruin too many future blog posts, though I suppose you know who I have winning the AFC North now). Since the West plays the NFC North, and the North plays the AFC West, I expect more of the Bengals' wins to come in-conference, and they'll win the tiebreaker.
Here's the breakdown for the Cincinnati Bengals:
Coaching Changes: N/A
Marvin Lewis has been said to be on the hot seat, which confuses me. He's succeeded where a decade's worth of coaches failed. He's brought the Bengals to the playoffs, and two .500 seasons in the difficult AFC, meaning he's made them an above average team. Sure, he's going to need to get them some playoff success soon, but I don't think his job is in jeopardy yet. Bob Bratkowski returns to coordinate the offense for his seventh year, and Chuck Bresnahan is back for his third year running the D.
They got a good character guy in Leon Hall, who some thought would go higher, so he seems like a good pick. His NFL potential has been questioned, though, due to his getting burned by the better receivers he's faced. He's physical, and matches up well against big possession receivers, but his speed is a problem. They also drafted RB Kenny Irons, a pure running back with poor receiving skills. Both of these guys may turn out to be flops who can't handle the NFL game, but at least they're not character risks. QB Jeff Rowe, a fifth-round pick, gives them a potential surprise should Carson Palmer miss time, and they certainly needed a backup signal caller.
Player Movement: D
Odell Thurman has been suspended for the season, and Chris Henry will miss eight games. They lost a lot of players, and didn't add many as replacements. Big but aging DT Sam Adams is gone, LB A.J. Nicholson has left, CB Tory James and WR Kelley Washington both ran off to New England, S Kevin Kaesviharn and LB Brian Simmons both went to New Orleans, and C Eric Steinbach is now on division rival Cleveland's offensive line. And the new players of greatest significance are C Alex Stepanovitch and LB Edgerton Hartwell. This grade would be far worse, except they didn't lose any truly crucial players.
They have one of the easiest schedules in the AFC, playing the NFC West and the AFC North, and drawing Tennessee and Kansas City, both of whom I expect to drop off after last season's success. Also, the schedule is ridiculously lopsided. It's very possible that most fans will have counted them out of the playoff race by week 10, after contests vs. New England, Seattle, New York Jets, and both Baltimore games. But after that point, they don't play a single team that I'm predicting to finish better than 8-8. However, I don't actually expect the season to shake out like that. I think the Bengals might be involved in more upsets than any other team in the league; beating better teams but losing to inferior ones. Second, I think the Bengals will have the worst record vs. the NFC out of all the AFC teams. They play the West, which means facing Shaun Alexander, Stephen Jackson, Frank Gore, and Edgerrin James. Their defensive tackles are some combination of Domata Peko, John Thornton, Michael Myers, Kenderick Allen, and Matt Toeiana. Translation: these elite backs run up the gut all day and their teams control the clock. I don't think a single Bengals-NFC West game will result in a combined score of less than 60. This means more of their wins will come in AFC contests, which will help in the tiebreakers.
First, there's the eternal question: Who gets arrested? How often? How long will they be suspended? Okay, three eternal questions. The Bengals' misconduct issues are a joke. Fortunately, a lot of the troublesome players aren't starters. The most important one is Deltha O'Neal, whose presence is essential to the development of Hall and Jonathan Joseph at the corners. If he misses time due to legal trouble, he will hurt the team greatly. Most of the other players of concern are expendable.
The Record: 10-6
The fact of the matter is, they have one of the league's five best QBs in Carson Palmer, one of the league's five best receiving tandems in Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and a very capable running back in Rudi Johnson, all working behind a solid offensive line. They join the Saints and Colts as teams whose offenses are so good that they don't need to worry about defense. They won't be making a lot of teams punt, but if the D can get their turnover totals back to 2005 levels, they are set for a playoff appearance.