EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the seventh of 32 preseason previews in 32 days leading up to the NFL season opener Thursday, Sept 5.
Win total last 5 years: 37
LVH over/under wins (8½)
How tough is the AFC North? Well, Pittsburgh is 3/2 to win the division, Super Bowl champ Baltimore 9/4 and our favorite Cincinnati 2/1.
Yep, Marvin Lewis now has his Bengals up with the big boys. It wasn’t quite that way at first.
Cincinnati won 10 games and made the playoffs in 2009, but that was sandwiched in between two 4-win seasons so it would be understandable to consider the meteoric rise a fluke.
After all the Bengals had been losers for years. Then things changed. Off 19 wins and back to back playoff appearances, Cincinnati now expects to be in the postseason and not behind the Steelers or Ravens.
It’s no coincidence that the turnaround came when Andy Dalton and AJ Green arrived. Green has 162 catches in the last two seasons. Dalton added the maturity and steadiness at quarterback that he showed at TCU.
The defense is top 10 quality, headed by All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins. With Baltimore in transition, Pittsburgh having missed the playoffs last year and Cleveland waiting to establish a No. 1 QB, the time is right for Cincinnati to take charge.
The question is will they? Well, a step in the right direction was signing longtime Steelers nemesis James Harrison at linebacker.
Then there’s a draft, which shapes up a lot better than the B grade from Athlon Sports. Top pick Tyler Eifert from Notre Dame can combine with Jermaine Gresham to form a Patriots-type tight end tandem.
No. 2 pick RB Giovani Bernard at 5-8, 202 was an under the radar star at North Carolina. And third round pick, safety Shaun Williams of Georgia, may have the best shot of immediately breaking into the starting lineup.
The Bengals have the law firm, Benjarvus Green-Ellis carrying the ball, but Bernard is the breakaway back that has been lacking.
If Cincy can post 3-2 in the first five games (Chicago, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Cleveland, New England), the next four are Buffalo, Detroit, NY Jets, Miami.
Sounds like OVER 8½ to me.
Thursday: Cleveland Browns.
Mark Mayer has over 35 years covering sports events and is the sports editor at GT. Reach him at [email protected].