When was the last time a team won the Super Bowl and didn’t head into the following season as the favorite to win their division? That scenario seems to be playing out before our eyes as the free agent signing period takes center stage.
We’ve heard a lot about the defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens this offseason — most of it not so good. After signing Joe Flacco to the richest deal in NFL history, it looks as though Baltimore is having a fire sale during free agency. It was already a big enough blow to lose Ray Lewis’ leadership. Now the Ravens head into 2013 without several key playmakers that helped them bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Baltimore.
That’s where the Cincinnati Bengals come in. After finishing second in the AFC North and earning a second consecutive trip to the playoffs, the Bengals are poised to continue their upward trend and stake their claim as the best team in the division.
The silence on behalf of the Bengals thus far during free agency should be reassuring — not alarming — to Bengal fans. That fact of the matter is that there is just not much out there that the Bengals need.
Offensively, they are as complete at the skill positions as any team in the league. I’ve heard rumors about upgrading the running back position during the draft, but to be honest, there are a lot of teams out there that would love to have the kind of production in their backfields that BenJarvus Green-Ellis gives the Bengals. I can maybe see them adding a more explosive change-of-pace back than what is currently on the depth chart, perhaps as a compliment to Green-Ellis, but not a replacement.
If anything, they could use some young depth on the line, which they should be able to find in the draft.
Defensively, Cincinnati has reasons to be excited at all three levels. Geno Atkins emerged in 2012 as one of the best defensive lineman in the league. Vontaze Bufict proved many detractors wrong by stepping up and having a fairly productive rookie season and looks to be their top returning linebacker. The secondary is as young, deep and talented as any in the league — easily the best in the division.
The Bengals will need to find a viable replacement for Rey Maualuga, but I feel like the draft is filled with options for the Bengals to get that done.
With Baltimore continuing to let playmakers walk out the front door, Pittsburgh in the midst of a minor rebuilding period and perhaps even an identity crisis and the Cleveland Browns in a constant state of confusion and overall organization chaos, it looks like the AFC North could very well be ripe for Cincinnati’s picking in 2013.
BY J.P. SCOTT ON MARCH 15, 2013