Well, tonight kicks off another exciting season of Bengals football with the preseason debut live on ESPN from Lambeau Field against the Packers. While most of America will be watching intently to see how Aaron Rodgers looks under center, Bengal Nation will be looking for some signs of life out of the orange and black stripes.
It would be easy for me to proclaim that the 2008 season (there will certainly not be an -09 element to that 2008 for this team) is probably the least excited I've been about a Bengals season in my lifetime (and that would include the depths of the Jeff Blake-Carl Pickens-Darnay Scott eras when 5 wins was a gift), but screw it. I'm taking on a new attitude this year with the Bengals. I don't care if we go 4-12 this year. I'm just going to enjoy this year, watch the Bengals do Bengal-like things all year, and just enjoy watching the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE. I might buy the Mel Kiper Jr. Draft Guide in the next couple weeks so that I'll have the whole college football season to scout players for the upcoming top 8 pick that I expect to see out of the Bengals this year. Looking forward to it.
Totally new attitude for me this year. Just happy to have an NFL franchise in Cincinnati. That is what ownership wants out of me as a fan anyway. I should be thankful that we just have a team, and asking for wins is being "greedy." I don't care if we give up 30 points a game with no pass rush, don't care if our o-line has no push again this year, don't care if Chad flakes out on every pass over the middle or runs the wrong route and then curses out Carson Palmer, don't care if Marvin has four awful challenges by the end of week two (I dare anyone to find a worse challenge coach in the NFL than Marvin), don't care if we come out every second half with ZERO adjustments, don't care if we run the most predictable offense in the NFL, don't care if Marvin has the frumpy "I have no idea how to fix the problem but I'm going to frown like I'm really disappointed in my team" look going after another defensive meltdown, don't care if the Bengal players are openly questioning their coach in a mic-ed up segment, and I don't care that the Bengals have the smallest scouting department in the NFL and no GM.
Just give me 16 games of lousy football, and that's all I can ask for.
For what it's worth, I'm not even remotely embarrassed to admit that I sort of embraced the Browns last year and found myself flipping over to watch them quite a bit (even when the Bengals were playing). They are a fun team to watch, and I got a little caught up in the excitement of their games. When the Bengals neglect their fanbase for 18 years (and counting), I'm not going to apologize for flirting with some other teams.
The Browns opened their preseason last week against the Jets, and they looked really impressive before the rain delay. Mark it down right now. The biggest steal of the offseason (assuming that he stays healthy) might be Donte Stallworth. I kind of forgot that the Browns signed him, and he looked spectacular for them. He's a perfect fit for what they are trying to do. Get him the ball underneath and open up things out on the perimeter and down the field for Braylon Edwards. And that's before you start talking about The Soldier (who is the best tight end in the NFL if you ask me). The Browns have a really good offensive line with Joe Thomas and Eric Steinbach, and they suddenly have a load of weapons.
As far as the quarterback position is concerned, I think I might have been wrong on Derek Anderson. My assumption all offseason (which I have been saying to every Browns fan I know) was that the book would get written on Derek Anderson during offseason film study, and that he would revert back to a stiff and a turnover machine this year. I figured that Brady Quinn would be taking this team over by about week 6. After watching Anderson in the preseason game (and reading a little more about the preseason reports), I'm suddenly not so sure about that prediction. Anderson looked really good against the Jets, and he appears to have a little more feel for the short passing game than he did last year. I have to say that I was really impressed with him. He looked like he just took the reins of the QB job and isn't looking back.
As for Brady Quinn, I hate to say it since I love Brady Quinn and hope the best for him, but I'm not sure anymore that he is a better player than Anderson. I thought Brady looked really good last year in the preseason, but he doesn't look he's that much better this year (whereas Anderson appears to have gotten better). Brady is a great athlete and very intelligent, but he still doesn't have great touch down the field, and he had a really shaky interception where he tried to gun a ball at a receiver coming over the middle. Brady recovered from the pick and didn't look bad the rest of the way, but Anderson actually looked better. It probably helps that Anderson is playing with all those star skill players, so it would be interesting to see Brady get a quarter with the #1 guys. Guess we'll just have to see how the QB race plays out over the rest of the preseason and heading into the regular season, but I think that Anderson looks like the better player at this point. Brady has three more games to make a statement, so hopefully he plays well.
Should be an interesting race in the AFC North this year. The Steelers are still the favorite, and I would be crazy to pick anyone else in the division until someone unseats them. I do think that the Browns have closed the gap though. Their offensive line is really really good, and they appear to have all the skill position pieces in place. It will come down to how the Browns perform defensively. The NFL is all about line play these days. If you can't dominate up front one the offensive and defensive lines, you aren't going to be a great team. The Steelers have been dominating the other AFC North teams up front for almost 20 years now, so the Browns are going to have to get much more production out of their new d-line pickups. If they can find a way to beat the Steelers in the head to head matchups, the division is there for the taking.
I actually think this is an important year for the Steelers and especially Mike Tomlin. They looked like a typical Steelers team last year, but maybe not quite as nasty as they looked during the Cowher era. The Steelers still have the mystique, so I don't expect anything to come easy against them this year. I will be curious to see what their offensive line looks like without Alan Faneca.
Don't really know what the Ravens have looked like this offseason, but I don't see them making any noise in the AFC North until they have their QB situation straightened out.
Should be another entertaining year in the AFC North. With the brutal schedules that all the AFC North teams have to play (AFC South and NFC East for their divisional draws), I expect the division winner to be around 9-7 at best.