The AFC North blog continues its series this week on reasons for hope and reasons to be concerned for teams in the division. On Tuesday we take a look at the Cincinnati Bengals.
Biggest reason for hope: Young talent
Do not be fooled by the Bengals' 4-12 record. This team has good, young talent on its roster. Young players like Keith Rivers, Rey Maualuga, Andre Caldwell, Jerome Simpson, Jermaine Gresham, Jordan Shipley and Carlos Dunlap have all showed flashes at different times but need to put it together collectively for a full season if the Bengals want to be competitive. Cincinnati also has incoming rookies like receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton who are expected to make an immediate impact. Do not expect the Bengals to make another run at the AFC North title this season. They are too young and rebuilding. But if this young nucleus can be more consistent and grow together, the Bengals may have a shot at closing the gap with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens in the next two to three years.
Biggest reason for concern: Uncertainty at quarterback
Cincinnati franchise quarterback Carson Palmer put the Bengals in a tough spot with his offseason trade demand. Cincinnati ownership is holding out hope that Palmer returns and refuses to trade him, but it appears this will simply lead to early retirement. Now the Bengals will be led by Dalton, who was a second-round draft pick in April. Dalton is a huge unknown and playing the NFL's most important position. He could be a complete bust or Cincinnati's long-term solution at quarterback. Even Colt McCoy, who played decent football for the Browns in his rookie season, went 2-6 as a first-year starter. I think expectations for Dalton should be tempered and he shouldn't be expected to lead the Bengals to the playoffs in his rookie year.
On Wednesday we will continue our "Hope and Concern" series with the Cleveland Browns.