Over the past few years, it seems that the Bengals' have been stuck in the shadow of their big brothers' in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, but salary cap issues have hit hard for both the Ravens and Steelers this offseason. Will Cincinnati be able to take advantage and take the next step in the ranks of the AFC North?
The 2011 and 2012 seasons have given Bengals fans a glimmer of hope for a franchise that has struggled to win on a consistent basis. They seem to have found their man under center in quarterback Andy Dalton, who has led the team to the post season in each of his first two seasons in the league. It also helps that A.J. Green has burst onto the scene as one of the league's top big play receivers. However, there is still quite a bit of work to do on the offensive side of the ball. Aside from Green, the Bengals receiving corps is rather lackluster, tight end Jermaine Gresham is an athletic playmaker who struggles at times with consistency. Cincinnati is still in search of a #2 wideout to compliment Green, the team hoped Mohamed Sanu could fill that role, but his season was cut short by injury. In the running game, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a tough, hard-nosed back who doesn't seem to get as much attention as he deserves. Green-Ellis, however, lacks big play ability and doesn't contribute much as far as catching the ball out of the backfield. It might be in the Bengals' interest to search for a quicker back who can take some of the pressure off of the downfield passing game. On the offensive line, the team will be tasked with replacing offensive tackle Andre Smith, who emerged as a solid starter after a questionable start to his career that led many to peg him as a bust.
Cincinnati appears to be in good shape on the defensive side of the ball. The Bengals ranked 6th in the NFL in total defense in 2012 and for the most part have been able to hold on to the core players who contributed. While its been rather quiet on the free agency front in Cincinnati, re-signing linebacker Rey Maualuga was key in holding their defense together. Cornerback could be a target this offseason, as Terence Newman and Adam Jones (the artist formerly known as Pacman) are both unrestricted free agents.
2013 is shaping up to be an interesting year in the AFC North and a potential shift of power within in the division is very possible. Only time will tell if the Bengals are able to take advantage of the position they are in and rise to the challenge.