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What’s Next For the Cincinnati Bengals?

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My guess? A lot of losses.

A little over a year ago the Cincinnati Bengals were flying high as the AFC North Champions. They finished the season 10-6, sweeping the division and hosting a first round playoff game against the Jets. Granted the 10-6 was about as real as Heidi Montag considering they were 4-6 outside the division and only had a point differential of +14.  Still, no one could’ve seen the Enron-like collapse that has taken place over the course of the last 6 months.

Entering their playoff game with the Jets last January, the Bengals had dreams of hoisting the Lombardi trophy.  Those dreams came crashing down faster than Joaquin Phoenix’s career. The Bengals were badly outplayed for much of the game, and although they hung in on the scoreboard, were unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs much earlier than they expected. Even still, fans were excited about Bengal football for one of the few times in a generation.

The Bengals high hopes were further strengthened by their draft. They picked up three solid contributors with their first three selections. Jermaine Gresham gave them the tight end presence they so desperately needed. Carlos Dunlap provided 9.5 sacks as a rookie, and receiver Jordan Shipley was a great pickup in round three. From that point on it was all downhill in the Queen City.

Cincinnati didn’t make too many exciting moves in the free agent market with two obvious exceptions. Head Coach Marvin Lewis has a battered woman’s complex. He thinks that he can fix anybody despite obvious character issues. True to form, Lewis and the Bengals went out and signed the talented, but much maligned Terrell Owens to a one-year deal, and career criminal PacMan Jones to a two-year deal. In uniting Owens with his best friend Chad OchoCinco, the Bengals thought they were going to have a dynamic receiving duo. They forgot one key component to having good receivers is having a good quarterback.

Carson Palmer is in the same realm as Mark Sanchez when it comes to overrated QBs. Not surprising both are products of the hype-machine that is USC, but at least Sanchez’s teams have won playoff games. Carson Palmer’s has yet to win one, and given his current skill-set, I don’t see that changing anytime soon. To his credit, he did have two very good years in the league, but since then he has been a garbage time hero. Looking at his numbers you wouldn’t say that he’s awful, until you dig a little deeper. Palmer’s completion percentage is under 50% on 3rd down. When games are close? You might as well forget about it, here are Palmer’s career splits by game situation.

Winning by 15+: QB Rating: 98.3

Winning by 1-7: QB Rating: 50.6

Losing by 1-7:  QB Rating 59.2

Losing by 15+: QB Rating 127.5

The best part of the equation is that yesterday Palmer formally requested for the Bengals to trade him. I’m sure the Bengals would have no problem accommodating if: 1) they could find someone to take his insane contract (added 6 years to a contract that still had 3 years left on it), and 2) if they had an actual competent owner/president instead of Mike Brown. Brown isn’t quite in Al Davis territory yet, but he’s getting there. Davis 2.0 came out and said that they have no intentions of trading Carson and that he is a big part of the Bengals’ future. I’m not certain he watched many of the team’s games this season. If he had, he would realize Carson isn’t even the best Palmer QB on the team.

Cedric Benson certainly didn’t help the Bengals out much this season either. He had one of the softest 1,000 yard seasons in recent memory. His 3.5 yards per carry is the lowest average by anyone with over 200 carries; Benson had 321. That means he ended more drives before they started than Rex Grossman. 9 games this season Benson averaged under 3 yards per carry. Perhaps the most damning statistic is this: It took him until week 13 to have a touchdown run of longer than 1 yard (he finished with 2 and only 1 longer than 5 yards).

What does this all mean? Well it means that the Bengals finished the season last in their division at 4-12. It means even though they fielded a better team than a year ago, they somehow got 6 games worse. The only good news was that Marvin Lewis’ contract was up and the Bengals could get some fresh blood in there to change the culture in the locker room. It was not meant to be though as, in true Mike Brown fashion, he re-upped  Lewis’ contract for 2 more seasons.

This move essentially means that you can add Palmer to the list of Bengals who will not return next season. Also on that list are: Terrell Owens, who enjoyed a career resurgence last season and  Chad OchoCinco, who by his own admissions, and the numbers had a down year, but is still a threat anytime he’s on the field. Cedric Benson and CB Jonathan Joseph are also free agents and if they know what’s good for them will get as far away from Cincinnati as possible. Get ready for the Cam Newton era Bengal fans! As of last week, I was too busy trying to figure out how Al Davis would get back into the 1st round and draft Newton, that I completely neglected Mike Brown’s lunacy. Granted #4 is way too high for a QB that shouldn’t be drafted in the 1st round at all, but if Brown wants to take one step closer to crypt keeper status, you will see the 180 thousand dollar man in stripes come April.

One guy that will be back, much to the dismay of Bengal fans everywhere is #6 overall pick in the 2009 draft, Andre Smith, who was signed with 21 Million in guaranteed money. Smith was seen as a “can’t miss” lineman has done everything in his power to prove that moniker wrong. Linemen are big, they have to be, but they don’t have to be fat, out of shape, and possess the work ethic of Charles Rogers.

Will Paul Brown Stadium return to being the kingdom of paper bagged heads? If you ask your magic 8 ball, I bet “all signs point to yes.” The only thing that can save the Bengals now is a work stoppage… Luckily for Cincinnati, one is almost certain at this point. Unfortunately for Bengals fans, that merely delays the inevitable.

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