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Beware of the Bengals

The Bengals recently signed offensive guard Mike Pollak and are close to signing James Harrison as well. Cincinnati will be the team-to-beat for the Ravens in the AFC North this coming season, as it appears they will improve on their 10-6 record of last year.

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The sports gambling site Bovada has the Bengals at 35/1 odds of winning the 2014 Super Bowl. This puts them at more likely than about half the NFL of winning the Lombardi Trophy. However, there is reason to believe they will be a serious contender next year, especially in the AFC North.

The Bengals developed a cohesive offense last year, behind Andy Dalton's quick passing game and A. J. Green's solid play. Although Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones are under-the-radar receivers, look for them to elevate their play next year, and I think Sanu could possibly even have a breakout season and emerge as a key starter in Cinci's offense.

The Bengals also hold it down on defense behind the likes of Devon Still, Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson, and Brandon Thompson on the line, one that is arguably one of the better defensive lines in the NFL. Also look out for Dre Kirkpatrickto live up to his status as a first-round draft pick, now that he has some experience playing at the NFL level. This defense finished 6th overall last year, and is a promising group of young guys poised for success.

This offseason the Bengals have taken a stingy approach to filling their roster spots, spending as little cap space as possible on current players, and restraining from picking up the likes of Wes Welker, Dashon Goldson, or Reggie Bush. The Bengals entered free agency with the highest cap space in the league and the goal of resigning all, if not most, of their 2012 starters. Marvin Lewis and Mike Brown are looking to capitalize on this year's draft class, seeing as Cincinnati holds 3 of the first 53 picks in the draft (2 in the 2nd round). Their strategy appears to be centered around developing a young team, and making sure those players stay in Cincinnati. This equates to a team of players who have experience playing together, and understand each other's style, flaws, and talents.

It is interesting to observe the moves being made in Cincinnati, and even more intriguing to see how these moves will pan out in the season(s) to come. The bottom line here is that the Bengals are emerging as the #2 team in our division, and should be considered a legitimate obstacle in the Ravens' 2013 season.