The Cincinnati Bengals enjoyed successes they haven't had in nearly 15 years. And one would think with the young careers of Marvin Lewis, Carson Palmer, Rudi Johnson and Chad Johnson....not to mention guys like Odell Thurman and Deltha O'Neal on defense.....would guarantee that this team could be on a rise such as a team a few miles to the northwest, the Colts.
But they may see a hiccup in the road next season. With Carson Palmer smashing up his knee....any hopes of making a Super Bowl run was dashed in the early moments of their first postseason game in a decade and a half. The injury could have lingering effects into the 2006 season....whether that means missing camp, missing a few games or just adjusting to his rebuilt knee.
If Palmer can't go....then who does?? Jon Kitna, who came in relief for Palmer, will be a free agent and the Baltimore Ravens are very interested. Obviously, staying in Cincinnati means backing up Palmer [when healthy] and taking less money [the team just signed Palmer up until 2012]. In B-more, he'll see some more cheese and have a legit shot at displacing Kyle Boller as the Ravens' starter. With no Kitna, the team will almost assuredly go after a veteran free agent since Craig Krentzel is their 3rd QB.
But that's just if Palmer cannot come back. Eventually he will and will continue his development into one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. You cannot really say that about the defense.
The defense ranked 28th in the league. If it wasn't for their excellent ability to get takeaways....they'd never stop anyone. They spent the 2005 draft getting linebackers David Pollack and Odell Thurman. Thurman was a Defensive ROY candidate...while Pollack missed camp and never truly recovered. With a year under their belts, they should improve. In the secondary, there are guys [like Tory James] who will be getting big pay raises and may end up being cap casulties.
The biggest killer will be the schedule. In 2005, Cincinnati benefitted from playing a sked with some downtrodden teams. The Packers, Bills, Lions, Titans and Texans littered their path...as well as a flailing Vikings team. They also got the Bears before they were the Bears who we know and love now.
In 2006 the Bengals will play 7 games against teams that qualified for the playoffs this season [including 6 that are still alive].....and 10 games against teams that finished with a .500 or better record. Here it is....
HOME: Patriots, Panthers, Steelers, Chargers, Falcons, Ravens, Browns, Raiders
ROAD: Colts, Broncos, Buccaneers, Steelers, Chiefs, Ravens, Browns, Saints
I would almost guarantee that one of those Bengals-Steelers games will be on NBC's Sunday Night Football [remember, the games the NFL deems as premier matchups will be on SNF...not on Monday]....as well as two more as possibilities.