This will certainly be an interesting season for the team formerly known as the Bungles. After a tumultuous year with the tragic loss of Chris Henry, Chad Ochocinco's “Dancing with the Stars” theatrics, and Carson Palmer playing like he was back in college for a while and then forgetting how to play altogether, I am intrigued to see how the suddenly impressive Cincinnati Bengals handle their new position atop the AFC North. Will they continue their defensive dominance? Will Cedric Benson be able to put together solid back-to-back seasons? Will Scooby and the gang be able to solve the mystery of the haunted amusement park? Only time will tell... well, except for that last part, we all know they will unmask the ferris wheel operator who was always slighted for his hunched back and psoriasis. In order to give you some insight into all things Bengals, I will address their key fantasy targets, as well as analyze their schedule and coaching strategies for the upcoming NFL season.
Cincinnati Bengals 2010 Fantasy Football Draft Targets
Carson Palmer: Carson Palmer may not be the quarterback he once was in college. He may not even be the quarterback he was before he injured his knee and elbow, but he is still a solid contributor in what is primarily a run first offense. His bread and butter is going to be the short passing game. After the elbow injury in 2008 Palmer has struggled to regain the arm strength that was once his greatest asset. He struggled to get the ball down the field last season and I think this is the year where he turns that all around. Instead of forcing the ball to undersized and inexperienced receivers on the outside, look for Carson and his new receiving corps to work in the intermediate zone where he can use his accuracy and timing to his advantage. The Bengals still have threats on the outside and with their strong running attack they will the have to opportunity to take some shots down the field, but when Palmer was forced to try and win games with his arm last season he was inconsistent at best. All you need to do is look at week 14 against Minnesota and the season finale against the Jets where he threw for 94 yards and 0 yards, respectively. I see Carson Palmer being a mid-tier fantasy pick this season where he will have one or two big games, but will regularly hit 250 yds with 1 or 2 TDs. He is certainly not going to be putting up Brady or Brees-like numbers this year, but with some new weapons and another season to get his arm strength back up to par he could be surprise a lot of people. Look for Palmer to improve upon his 21 touchdowns from a year ago, hitting the end zone around 25 times, and with the opposition focusing on stopping the run he will definitely be adding another 3,000+ yd season to his resume.
Cedric Benson: Benson's production and health will be the key to the Bengals’ success on the offensive side of the football. He sets the tone of the game with his hard, north-south running and Marvin Lewis has shown an increasing amount of faith in his abilities by making him the focal point of their running attack. Last year, he wasn't on anyone’s radar coming into draft time, but this year there is the possibility that he will be one of the first 5-7 running backs taken in your fantasy league, which could be slightly inflated just based upon one good season out of his last five. Benson will definitely be solid this year, but may not be worthy of a top 5 pick. In Lewis's scheme, Benson will definitely get his fair share of touches and with a solid offensive line in front of him he will rack up yards and will consistently linger around the 100 yard mark on a weekly basis. Last season he broke 100 yards six times out of the 13 games he played, including the playoffs, but he was only able to reach the end zone seven times, with six of those coming in the first eight games of the season. The Bengals simply do not score a lot of points and so much of his value is going to be in leagues that give bonuses for 100+ yard games. I see Cedric Benson going for 1,400 yds and 7-10 TDs in 2010, and if he can improve his hands out of the backfield he will be even more versatile and, more importantly, more valuable.
Chad Ochocinco: Well, well, well, here we go again. With TO seemingly taking the year off from the media, everyone's eyes and ears were fixed entirely on Mr. Ochocinco, and he did not disappoint, especially off the field, and on “Dancing with the Stars”. While all of that is good fun and all, it is merely static in his overall value as a football player. Ochocinco is a gamer, and a good one at that. In the past he has thrived as a secondary target, his best years coming when T.J. Houshmanzadeh resided on the other flank, but when he was in the primary role he has struggled to be a downfield threat. Ochocinco's biggest strengths come when he is able to get underneath and get physical with defensive backs one on one and work with the ball after the catch, he is not going to beat anyone down the sidelines like a Randy Moss or Andre Johnson, it just isn't his game. Last year he was able to bounce back after a horrendous 2008 and break the 1,000 yard mark and haul in nine touchdowns, which I foresee being repeated in 2010. All of this could be contingent upon the play of the next man I am going to address...
Antonio Bryant: Bryant is definitely a wild card. He could be a huge asset to the Bengals passing attack, but consistency on the field has been lacking in recent seasons. Granted, I will have to give him a pass for last season in Tampa Bay due to their lack of a passing game and inexperience at quarterback. What Bryant brings to the table is the downfield threat that the Bengals were definitely lacking last season. He provides a different skill set that will alleviate a lot of the pressure on Ochocinco, as well as opening up more space for the running game because the opposition will have to respect Bryant's size and speed down the field. The only question that remains to this puzzle is if Carson Palmer can get the ball down the field when Bryant can get separation or, at least, one-on-one coverage on the outside. If they are able to make that connection it will drop the linebackers back and force the safeties to respect the deep ball, as opposed to simply stepping up and closing in on the run and the short physical game that their running backs and various other receivers can provide. My feeling is that Antonio Bryant will have a bounce back year this year and put up solid numbers. He may not reach the heights that Houshmanzadeh did in Cincinnati because of their focused running attack, but there is definitely potential to have two 1,000 yard receivers on the field, but Bryant catching a few less touchdowns with 5-7.
When exactly was the last time a Cincinnati Bengals tight end was a stud catching the ball? Seriously. I got nothing. This is a legitimate question to the sporting/fantasy world. Last season the Bengals drafted Chase Coffman, a big play tight end out of Missouri, hoping that he would be another offensive threat right away, but Coffman lost his rookie season to a broken foot and remains unproven. In 2010, the Bengals went to the draft (again) to hopefully find an answer to the myriad of questions surrounding the position, and the Bengals seem confident that this man will provide the answers...
Jermaine Gresham: Young, great hands, and most importantly, he can block. Taken with the 21st overall pick in the 2010 draft, Gresham certainly has a lot to prove once he sets foot on the NFL field. Widely considered the best pass catching tight end in this years draft class, but questions remain if his surgically repaired knee will hold up, and most reports out of training camp are highly positive that it is doing just fine. Gresham will definitely provide a new element to the passing game of the Bengals with his size and strength in the seam and should make an immediate impact. Last year the Bengals tight ends combined for only 410 yds receiving and a meager 2 touchdowns. This year all of that will change. With Gresham on the field the Bengals will do what they can to get him involved early and make him a threat right off the back. With all of his raw talent the sky is the limit for this guy and could be a sleeper at the position if they utilize him to his full potential. Look for Gresham to get his hands on the ball in the red zone and catch 4-6 TDs and 400-600 yds receiving.
The Bengals made their mark last season, not with Ochocinco's mouth, but with their defensive dominance and tenacity. Defensively, the Bengals are as balanced as they coming ranking #4 in total defense, #6 in pass yds/g, and #7 in rush yds/g in 2009. Over the past few years they have done nothing but improve and I don’t see them slowing down anytime soon. The one thing they may lack is a big play threat on the defensive side of the ball. Don't get me wrong, they do everything right; they attack the run, they shut down the pass, and they force the issue and make teams adapt to them, but they are still in the lower half of the league in takeaways and defensive scoring, which is where your fantasy value comes from. I do not see them becoming any more of a ball hawking team this season, but their discipline and consistency will remain and they will do nothing but improve. It all starts with the veteran Dhani Jones who is the leader of this defensive unit. Always has over 100 tackles and is always involved and is versatile enough to shut down the run and the pass at the linebacker position. On the outside they have two solid, physical, and unsung corners who may not be the prototypical shut down guys in Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall, but they are the ones who take the pressure off of the safeties because they do not give up the big play and allow for the safeties to step up the pressure up front and contain the opposition. The big boys up front, and their hair, could be the ones to keep your eyes on. Jonathan Fanene had 6.0 sacks and was as big of a physical a presence up front as anyone in the league and Antwan Odom, whose season was cut short due to injury, had an impressive 8.0 sacks in just 5+ games of action in 2009.
Wk Date Opponent
1 Sun, Sept 12th @ New England Patriots
2 Sun, Sept 19th Baltimore Ravens
3 Sun, Sept 26th @ Carolina Panthers
4 Sun, Oct 3rd @ Cleveland Browns
5 Sun, Oct 10th Tampa Bay Buccaneers
6 BYE WEEK
7 Sun, Oct 24th @ Atlanta Falcons
8 Sun, Oct 31st Miami Dolphins
9 Mon, Nov 8th Pittsburgh Steelers
10 Sun, Nov 14th @ Indianapolis Colts
11 Sun, Nov 21st Buffalo Bills
12 Thurs, Nov 25th @ New York Jets
13 Sun, Dec 5th New Orleans Saints
14 Sun, Dec 12th @ Pittsburgh Steelers
15 Sun, Dec 19th Cleveland Browns
16 Sun, Dec 26th San Diego Chargers
17 Sun, Jan 2nd @ Baltimore Ravens
The Bengals have certainly been left with a tough road. The AFC North is always a tough division with the Ravens always improving and the Steelers are always a threat, albeit a weaker one this year with fewer weapons on offense. Unfortunately the Bengals do not get the chance to take advantage of the Ben Roethlisberger suspension as they face them twice in the second half of the season. Every single week they face a potential playoff contender, except for the Browns and the Bills, and it will be a true test to see if the Bengals are a legit contender and deserve to be atop the division. I think that their entire season will come down to the very last game of the season at the Ravens. With the difficulty of their schedule it is tough to tell if they could make the playoffs without winning the AFC North. The Wild Card race is always hotly contested and they need to have another 10 or 11 win season to get there and I am not confident they will. They will dominate the Browns as they should, but will definitely struggle against New England, Indianapolis, and the defending champion Saints because they are good but they are not that good, not yet. Look for the Bengals to go 9-7 and falling just short of the AFC North crown to the Ravens in the season finale.
With the addition of Gresham and Bryant to their passing game, Marvin Lewis has a much more talented receiving corps than he had last season, and he will adjust his game plan accordingly. This is not to say that he will stray too far from his favored running attack, but it does allow for his to vary his offensive strategy. With Gresham in the flat, Ochocinco running short routs and slants through the middle and Bryant stretching the D long it will only open up more and more space for Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott to pound the ball up the gut. Teams will be forced to respect the passing game and will not have the luxury of just stuffing the run to shut down the Bengals this year. They have too many weapons to be a mechanical running offense, but when they do run the ball they will have more holes in which to do so. Balance will be the key to their success and I believe Carson Palmer will answer his critics and prove he still has the arm, and the savvy, to make it all come together.
Marvin Lewis has, and always will be, a defensive minded coach. This Bengals team is no different. Up front they are big, physical, and talented and in the secondary they have the luxury of having an excess of veteran leadership, with four experienced safeties (Gibril Wilson, Roy Williams, Chris Crocker, and Chinedum Ndukwe) competing for two spots. They have a strong work ethic and in the base 4-3 defense they are effective against the run and are rarely suspect to a big play over the top, unless it takes a nice deflection, I'm looking at you Brandon Stokley. The only thing that the Bengals need to improve upon is that they need to be more aggressive with the ball in the air. Opposing teams know that the big boys up front are going to clog the middle and they have linebackers like Rey Maualuga with plenty of speed to close in the flat so they are going to need to go to the air more often. Therefore the Bengals corners and safeties need to be ready to attack the ball at the highest point and increase their takeaway numbers, which will undoubtedly lead to more points on the board, as well as on your fantasy sheets.