I have a funny feeling about the Cincinnati Bengals this season, so much so that I'm thinking the long-time basement-dwellers could be on the verge of a Super Bowl run. I was recently asked to make an outside-the-box Super Bowl XLVIII prediction for another football publication, and I couldn't get the Bengals out of my head. They've finally begun to brush off their sorry history by making the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 30 years, and now I'm beginning to believe Cincy can make history in 2013. Here's why...
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green could be about to explode: Two Pro Bowl seasons into his career, Green could be on the verge of a massive campaign. That battery combo involving him and Dalton has the ability to dominate in the very near future.
The pass rush is stacked: The Bengals had the third-highest sack percentage and sack total in the NFL last year, and that defensive front should only get better. Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson are all 26 or younger and they added the raw but ridiculously dangerous Margus Hunt in the second round of the draft. The linebacking corps should be extremely solid, too, especially if second-year weakside presence Vontaze Burfict continues to flourish and if James Harrison can squeeze out another productive season or two.
The coaching staff is ready: Mike Zimmer has somehow been kept out of head-coaching roles and Jay Gruden is honing a very positive relationship with Dalton and the rest of that offense. HBO's Hard Knocks has painted Marvin Lewis in a very positive light -- you can see the grip he's developed within that locker room. This is a staff that could have a championship in it. Maybe more than one.
The division got weaker: We all know how hard it is to defend, and the Baltimore Ravens lost more than half of their defensive starters in the offseason. It appears Cleveland is still at least a year away, and the cap-strapped Pittsburgh Steelers had a very difficult offseason in terms of roster turnover.
The Bengals have the eighth-lowest all-time winning percentage among active NFL teams. Only the Kansas City Chiefs have a lower all-time postseason winning percentage. Even the 17-year-old Jacksonville Jaguars have as many playoff victories as the Bengals do in 43 seasons of existence. But there are some signs that everything is about to change in Cincinnati.