Originally written on This Given Sunday  |  Last updated 11/9/14

At this point last season, you would have been hard pressed to find anyone that believed the Bengals would be a respectable football team, much less a playoff contender.

Fast forward to today.

The Bengals are considered a legitimate threat to unseat the Ravens and the Steelers as the dominant teams in the AFC North, and the Bengals' hopes and dreams for 2012 hinge on a couple of young players that made their mark a season ago.

The Bengals were looking to replace troublesome quarterback Carson Palmer in last year's draft. With the 35th overall pick, they did just that by drafting Andy Dalton out of TCU. Andy Dalton was expected to struggle in his rookie season with what was considered a poor team at best, but he surprised everyone by leading his new team to the playoffs as the AFC's 6th seed.

The Bengals high level of success a season ago probably wouldn't have been possible without another high pick from the 2011 draft. A.J. Green was the 4th selection overall, and the pick was designed to replace talent in the Bengals' receiving corp. that had slowly eroded. Green was able to provide Andy Dalton with a reliable target, and Green was rewarded with 1,057 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Despite all their success from 2011, it's meaningless now. Young teams in the NFL tend to have problems taking the next step. We saw that last season when the Buccaneers were able to get off to a quick 4-2 start before imploding to finish 4-12.

Unlike the Buccaneers from a season ago, the Bengals are under veteran leadership. Marvin Lewis has been around the block a time or two, and his job will be to keep his young team focused week in and week out. The Buccaneers' problems last year appeared to be related to discipline and focus, and those are issues that Lewis has a great amount of experience in dealing with.

The next step for the Bengals comes tonight in Atlanta against a very formidable Falcons team. Yes, it's only a preseason matchup, but I'll be watching to see how the Bengals attack on both offense and defense. Cincinnati has many young players that will play integral roles on their squad, and their continued development is essential for the Bengals to take the next step, and that step comes later tonight.

[follow]

GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Brock Lesnar attends UFC 184, keeps MMA rumors alive

Ronda Rousey beats Cat Zingano in 14 seconds

Dick Vitale will not call Duke-UNC rematch either

PHOTO: Auburn coaches, players wear ribbons for Mason

Dustin Penner apologizes after sending rape joke on Twitter

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Report: Cowboys to use franchise tag on Dez Bryant

Report: Panthers officially parting ways with Greg Hardy

Could the Eagles release LeSean McCoy?

AEG: Inglewood stadium would be a terrorism target

Former Knick Anthony Mason dies at age 48

Report: Blackhawks, Caps discussed Patrick Sharp trade

WATCH: NIU C brings down basket on dunk

McCown plans to embrace mentoring role with Manziel

Chris Sale out three weeks with foot injury

NHL analyst calls out media over Blackhawks report

Alabama recruits aim to bring the dynasty back

WATCH: Jon Jones, Rumble Johnson prank Dana White

Anthony Mason: The most 'New York' of the 90's Knicks

Ray Rice addresses domestic violence case, his future & more

Kentucky raffling off Wildcats-themed motorcycle

WATCH: Montrezl Harrell throws down monster alley-oop

WATCH: Tyler Hansbrough, Festus Ezeli ejected for fight

WATCH: Russell Westbrook literally gets dent in his face

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Brock Lesnar attends UFC 184

Rousey beats Zingano in 14 seconds

Anthony Mason: The most 'New York' of the 90's Knicks

Could Eagles release LeSean McCoy?

AEG plays dirty with Inglewood stadium

Anthony Mason dies at age 48

Westbrook got dent in his cheek

Earl Lloyd and basketball’s cruel February

WATCH: Barkley rips analytics again

A-Rod: A con man returns to baseball

Bostick death threats show why some fans take sports too seriously

Russell Westbrook is surging into the MVP conversation

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.