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Introduction to the Cincinnati Bengals

A. J. Green and Andy Dalton instantly formed a successful partnership

At the end of the day, the NFL is a bottom line business. Teams take the field with the same goal in mind: win. Win the game, win the division, win a championship. This is every team's goal but only a chosen few make good on their opportunities. For the Cincinnati Bengals, the time for them to seize their moment is now. Six games into the 2013 season the Bengals sit atop the AFC North, a division they have only won twice in its 11 year history. Despite this the Bengals have still managed to make the playoff four times in the same period. The only problem is that they have failed to win a single post season contest each time. This year could be different though. This year fans and pundits alike are tipping the Bengals as a dark horse that finally piece together what has been lacking in previous years and make a serious and sustained championship run. The stage is set and it is up to the Bengals to capitalise. A quick look at the Ohio franchise makes it clear how critics have become enamoured with this team. Stability is present in the form of head coach Marvin Lewis, who is the second longest serving incumbent coach, who joined the franchise in 2003. Lewis, who won Coach of Year in 2009, has rescued the Bengals from relative mediocrity and has made them relevant again in an incredibly competitive AFC North. The franchise craves success however, and though Lewis has guided his team to the post season the last two years, the absence of a playoff win will begin to raise some questions over his ability to make the most out of his team. Luckily for him, the roster has a nice blend of talented young players and experienced veterans that will help Lewis win his first post season victory as head coach.

A New Breed Of Bengal

The Bengals have one of the youngest teams in the NFL with an average age of just under 26. Lewis has formed a nucleus of young talent out of these players and many have gained wide spread recognition and have become the face of this up and coming Cincinnati team. One such player is standout wide receiver A. J. Green. Green has made the Pro Bowl both years since being drafted by the Bengals in 2011 and made the All Pro team last season. Greens early prodigious form means he is beginning to rival the more established names as the best wide receiver in the league. One of the most athletic players at his position, Green has the ability to make plays all over the field. Able to combine both speed and strength Green provides a reliable target in the passing game and an end zone threat.  Green has continued his form into this season with four touchdowns and over 450 yards through six games. Despite this Green is still a young player with the potential to become even better. Consistency is his biggest problem as he sometimes struggles against the elite cornerbacks in the league which will inevitably be assigned to him. Even so Green is a major threat to any team and will be the Bengals biggest offensive threat this season. The biggest defensive threat the Bengals have is another young player, defensive tackle Geno Atkins. Atkins has joined Green at both Pro Bowls and has made the All Pro team twice on top of that. Despite being undersized for a defensive tackle, standing only 6 feet 1 inch, he has learned to use his small stature to his advantage. With ability to exploit his leverage to get underneath offensive linemen he has become the most dangerous defensive tackle in the passing game who forced 12.5 quarterback sacks last year, the highest amongst interior linemen. Atkins is a threat in all facets of the game who is equally dominant in the run game as well. It is not surprising then that Atkins has drawn comparisons to Hall of Famer Warren Sapp, for not only his size but for his tenacity and pre-eminence. It appears that Atkins has picked up right where he left off last year and has registered four sacks through six games which will no doubt please Lewis and Bengals fans alike. These players have already established themselves as elite talents but the jury is still out on another Cincinnati player, quarterback Andy Dalton. Dalton was drafted by the Bengals in 2011 and quickly established a rapport with fellow rookie A.J. Green. Though Dalton has improved all his major statistical categories year to year; completion percentage, yards, passer rating and touchdowns he has fallen under scrutiny for his ability to get it done in the big games. In Daltons two playoff outings he has failed to throw a touchdown while tossing four interceptions. If the Bengals hope to challenge for championship honours, Dalton will need to take his game to the next level come playoff time and the question remains if he has the potential to do so.

Recruiting Experience

To help compliment this dearth of young talent the Bengals have brought in and retained a number of veteran players to balance the team and give it that vital edge in the playoffs. One such acquisition was outside linebacker James Harrison. Harrison was picked up from long-time rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers after the two parties failed to agree to a new contract. Though Harrison's best days are certainly behind him, he still provides a powerful and intimidating presence on the defensive side of the ball. Known for wreaking havoc on offenses and delivering punishing hits, he is one of the most fined players in the history of the NFL. Harrison has embraced this alleged villain role and backs it up on the field with relentless play and refuses to change his play style from alleged "dirty" hits. This former Super Bowl winner will be an invaluable asset to this Bengals team come playoff time.  Another former Super Bowl veteran is running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Nicknamed "The Law Firm" Green-Ellis has had his share of playoff success also. The former Patriot is a robust player who can help grind out the tough yards in a hard hitting division where defenses rule the roost. The Law Firms greatest asset is his hands and he holds the record for most carries without a fumble. Since arriving in Cincinnati however Green-Ellis has lost his invulnerable aura and has fumbled the ball 4 times including once this season. Despite this Green-Ellis will help balance the running game with rookie Giovanni Bernard and provide that clutch edge necessary in playoff football.

In Need Of A Catalyst

Nothing comes easy in this league and the Bengals still have it all to do. Their first job will be winning their division for the first time since 2009. This year appears easier than most, as the two historical favourites in the AFC North are off to slow starts. The Pittsburgh Steelers have had one of their worst starts in decades with only one win in five games. Despite this the Steelers are still a formidable team with a distinct mental edge over the Bengals having won 5 of the 7 contests this decade. Now could be the time the Bengals finally usurp this long-time foe. The Baltimore Ravens are defending Super Bowl champions but seem to be suffering from the Super Bowl hangover and are also off to a slow start. They are championship winners for a reason however and they will be a tough test to this Bengals team. These two rivals play each other in the last game of the season in Ohio and this could very well decide who wins the division and who is packing up early for the year. Look for it to be a tense and closely contested affair. The Cleveland Browns have made an inspired start to their year and have already beaten the Bengals once. Losing within the division is always tough so look for the Bengals to bounce back when they meet again in Paul Brown Stadium. The stars are beginning to align for this Bengals side but getting over the playoff hump has thwarted many talented teams in the past. For the "Who Dey" Nation, the nickname given to Bengals fans, the hope is that this infusion of experience and youth will propel them towards a feat that has never been achieved by any Bengals team before: winning a championship.

Head Coach: Marvin Lewis

Super Bowl Appearances:  1981, 1988

Division: AFC North

Biggest Rivalries: Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens

Jersey to buy: #18 WR A. J. Green, #97 DT Geno Atkins, #14 QB Andy Dalton, #42 RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, #92 OLB James Harrison