Morning stripes: Predicting the season

Can you believe it? This time tomorrow morning, all of us, writers and fans alike will be waking up and beginning our game-day routines once again. (Well, those of us outside Denver and Baltimore, of course.) Boy, it seems like it's been forever since football was in our lives.

Actually, for some, like myself and a few others at ESPN's NFL Nation, this will be an opportunity to start a few new traditions and habits as we enter this regular season covering the league in ways the universe hasn't yet seen. In certain respects, Sunday will be just another Sunday. It will be just another unofficial opening day, filled with the pomp and circumstance that comes with such season starts.

But in other respects, this will be a historic Sunday, too. It'll mark the first time the Worldwide Leader has covered all 32 teams, bringing a specialized level of reporting and analysis to whichever team you fall over yourself cheering for. Naturally, those of you checking out this post are Bengals fans, meaning you're ready to earn your next set of stripes. So without further ado, away we go:

  • As we enter this opening weekend, we begin this round of morning stripes by posing the question: Where will Cincinnati finish this season? What record will the Bengals obtain? Is a long playoff run possible? Can they live up to the lofty expectations an overwhelming majority of Americans have for them? The reason I pose these inquiries is because the Cincinnati Enquirer attempted to answer them with a game-by-game breakdown in its special football section which came out Friday. In it, beat reporter Joe Reedy says an 11-5 season is a possibility. Cincinnati also will make it out of the first round of the playoffs, he believes.

  • Like we also mentioned on NFL Nation's Bengals page, Jay Morrison of the Dayton Daily News reported that Cincinnati isn't expecting to have left offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth in Sunday's opener. If the "doubtful" lineman doesn't start due to slow rehab from an offseason knee surgery, then his streak of 67 consecutive starts comes to an end. As Morrison writes, defensive end Michael Johnson would then remain tied with Whitworth for the team lead in consecutive games played with 67. Defensive tackle Domata Peko would take over the Bengals' starts streak, playing in his 52nd straight game.

  • One thing to take notice of in Sunday's opener is how quickly Cincinnati's offense flies out of the huddle and into its first play. According to Geoff Hobson from Bengals.com, center Kyle Cook is hoping to be putting his hand on the ball each play with 18 seconds remaining on the play clock. In doing that, Cincinnati will give quarterback Andy Dalton more time to read the defense and little time for the defense to read what he's trying to do. As offensive coordinator Jay Gruden put it, it's "blitz[ing] the defense before the defense blitzes you." Cincinnati believes this one tweak will help jump out to a quick offensive start.

  • Hobson also writes for the team site about a matchup Sunday that few are mentioning: punt team gunner Jeromy Miles versus Chicago punt returner Devin Hester. "It's hard to believe that I'm going against a guy I watched in high school and college. He was one of my favorite players," the fourth-year defensive back from Navy said. Miles last season was a key member of the punt team that led the NFL in punts downed inside the 5.