Cincinnati Bengals Playoff Preview

The Cincinnati Bengals are set to take on the San Diego Chargers this Sunday at 1:05PM at Paul Brown Stadium. This marks the third consecutive year the Bengals have reached the postseason, and fourth time in the last five years. Unfortunately, the Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since January 6, 1990. That all changes this weekend.

This has been one of the most interesting and exciting Bengals teams in recent memory. They scored 40 or more points in four consecutive home games. They had three different games come down to game winning kicks. They went to the west coast and won a defensive slugfest in San Diego. They got embarrassed on national TV by the Steelers. They beat Rodgers, Brady, Stafford, and Rivers among others. They had the most electrifying Bengals running back in my lifetime.

They had superstars on both sides of the ball in AJ Green and Vontaze Burfict. They endured the ups and downs of Andy Dalton. The overcame the injuries to two of their best defensive players in Geno Atkins and Leon Hall. They continue to overcome an incompetent owner.

Finally, they went 11-5 and won the AFC North in relatively easy fashion.

Now, it’s time to take the next step. This year feels different than the last two years in Houston. This team is favored to win and expected to make some noise in the playoffs. They have a good combination of veteran leadership and youthful confidence. There is no reason this team can’t compete for the Superbowl.

The AFC playoff bracket is filled with holes. Denver has weaknesses defensively and question marks surrounding Peyton Manning in cold weather. New England is without Rob Gronkowski and two of its best defensive players. The Bengals are inconsistent at the quarterback position. The Colts are limited offensively and have a very mediocre defense.

The point being, there is no clear cut favorite to represent the AFC in Superbowl XLVII. You could make the case for Denver, but I think they’re beatable and under the most pressure to perform. I’m not saying the Bengals will make it to the Superbowl, I’m saying they have a realistic chance. That’s pretty special.

Andy Dalton needs to stay within himself this Sunday

Andy Dalton needs to stay within himself this Sunday

Moving on to this Sunday.

The Bengals win if: Andy Dalton plays within himself. Dalton manages the game and protects the ball. The Bengals defensive front shows up. Giovani Bernard gets more than 15 touches. Vontaze Burfict and company continue to pressure Phillip Rivers.

The Chargers win if: Phillip Rivers goes off. The Bengals become the old Bengals and self implode on national TV. Jay Gruden continues to run Ben-Jarvus Green-Ellis outside the tackles. Mike Zimmer accepts the Lions job at halftime.

X Factor: Giovani Bernard. My affection for Gio knows no bounds. He should touch the ball at least 15 times and then the Law Firm can wear it out in the fourth quarter.

Prediction: Bengals 27, Chargers 17

Cincinnati Bengals Position Breakdown: Linebacker

The fourth installment of Bengals Breakdown will focus on the linebacker position for the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals.

The linebacking corps is one of the most interesting aspects of the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals. While the defensive line is the strength of the defense, there are still some question marks at the second level.

The addition of James Harrison caught a lot of people by surprise during the offseason. The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year brings a lot of experience and veteran leadership to a relatively young defense. He certainly wasn’t the same player during his final season in Pittsburgh, but he won’t be asked to do as much for the Bengals.

The Bengals need more from Rey Maualuga

The Bengals need more from Rey Maualuga

Harrison will be the opening day starter at one of the outside linebacker positions and should have ample opportunities to rush the quarterback. It will be interesting to see how much Harrison has left in the tank. He is 35 years old and coming off an injury prone 2012 season.

With that being said, Mike Zimmer loves to utilize multiple packages and should find plenty of ways to play to the strengths of James Harrison.

Furthermore, Harrison is still considered one of the hardest hitters in the league and undoubtedly brings an intimidation factor with him to Cincinnati.

As of now, Rey Maualuga will be the opening day starter at middle linebacker. Maualuga became a frequent scapegoat for Bengals fans everywhere this past season, and rightfully so. He was downright awful in the loss to Houston during the wild card round last year. In addition to multiple missed tackles, he allowed multiple catches to running backs and tight end across the middle of the field.

Despite these deficiencies, the Bengals believed in him enough to sign him to a two year deal during the offseason. Maualuga remains a key contributor on defense and he will need to improve for the linebacking corps to be taken seriously in 2013.

Expect big things from Vontaze Burfict in 2013

Expect big things from Vontaze Burfict in 2013

After an extremely productive rookie season in 2012, Vontaze Burfict will be the third starting linebacker when the Bengals open the season on September 8th in Chicago. Burfict led the team in tackles with 174 last season and was an instant fan favorite in Cincinnati.

Burfict plays hard and fast. He is the most explosive member of the linbacking corps and should improve coming off his first year in the NFL. There has been speculation he could surpass Maualuga at the middle linebacker position, but he still seems a bit raw to be in command of the defense.

There is no doubt the linebacking corps is talented. They have a nice blend of youth and experience to go with a dominant front line.

The biggest question mark will be the progression of Rey Maualuga and if James Harrison can provide a sense of leadership to Maualuga and Burfict.

Expect another big year from Vontaze Burfict and look for a rejuvenated and angry James Harrison to be a dominant tag team in the AFC North.