Cincinnati Bengals 2010 Season Preview: Can Marvin Lewis Hold This Together?
FanHouse's 2010 NFL Season Preview features division-by-division predictions based on our tried and true "Heat Index" formula. Each team is graded on a scale of 1-10 (10 being highest) in five key categories: Offense, Defense, Special Teams, Coaching and Intangibles. The higher the score, the better we think the team will be this season. Coming Sept. 2: NFC North
If you like to gamble, you should love the Bengals. At their best, and their worst, Cincinnati is always a step away from success or failure. You could argue that's true for every NFL team, but it's more true with the Bengals than almost anyone.
Cincinnati's approach has been to take chances on highly talented players with questionable makeup. When it falls apart, the Bengals find themselves waiving high-round picks (Odell Thurman, Ahmad Brooks) who fail to live up to their potential.
But there are times when it works out. When the Bears got tired of Cedric Benson, the Bengals found a dependable tailback to build an offense around. And former bad boy Tank Johnson proved a useful addition to the defensive line. Now Cincinnati will see if it can have the same luck with Pacman Jones and Terrell Owens.
Offense: If everything works out, Cincinnati should have the same kind of offense as it did when Carson Palmer first took over in 2004-2005. Back then the Bengals relied on a powerful tailback, Rudi Johnson, and a spread-it-around passing game with plenty of talented wide receivers. Now they rely on a powerful tailback (Benson) and a spread-it-around passing game with Chad Ochocinco, Owens and Andre Caldwell. Palmer may never be the same quarterback as he was before his 2005 knee injury and his 2008 elbow problems, but he still is talented enough to take this team to the playoffs. Heat Index: 7.
Defense: For years the Bengals' defense was not physical enough to compete in the AFC North. Antwan Odom's devastation of the Packers' offensive line early last season made it clear that the Bengals are no longer reliant on outscoring their opponents. If Odom is fully recovered from his Achilles injury (and he shows signs he's back), he gives the Bengals an impressive pass-rushing threat. Domato Peko has turned into a solid run stuffer, but everything is better defensively when you have a pair of elite cornerbacks (Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph) shutting down receivers. Heat Index: 7.
Special Teams: The battle between Dave Rayner and Mike Nugent for the kicking job is coming down to the wire. It appears that the Bengals would like to see Rayner take the job, but he's handing it to Nugent by shanking kicks in the preseason. Kevin Huber is a solid punter and Quan Crosby gives Cincinnati a dynamic returner. Heat Index: 7.
Coaching: Marvin Lewis has been around forever, but the Bengals have shown few signs that they want him to become a fixture in Cincinnati. He seems to just plug along because he's been successful enough to avoid being fired. Mike Zimmer, the Bengals' defensive coordinator, would be a likely replacement if the ownership decides to let Lewis go (he's in the final year of his current contract). Heat Index: 5.
Intangibles: Last year the Bengals got healthy -- which explains a large part of the bounce back from a brutal 4-12 season in 2008. If Lewis can keep a difficult locker room focused, Cincinnati has the talent to compete for a playoff spot again, but if things start to go bad, it could fall apart quickly. Heat Index: 5.
Overall: 31/50. Cincinnati has to be seen as a playoff contender, but considering the Bengals' recent history and the large number of players with character questions on the roster, a falloff back to five or six wins wouldn't be shocking if injuries crop up.