The NFL season kicks off on Thursday with the prime time match up of the New England Patriots versus the Oakland Raiders. Locally, optimism is riding high with the Cincinnati Bengals as they hope to break their playoff hiatus. Here are the top ten story lines that will affect the Bengals’ season and determine if they finally reach the playoffs.
10. Nationally televised games. After having two nationally televised games last year, the Bengals get to appear on national television only once this season. On October 9th, they head to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars in a Sunday Night Football game on ESPN. They will have to play good in this game if they want to get back to playing in prime time on a regular basis.
9. The Bengals’ wide receivers. TJ Houshmandzadeh and Kelley Washington will have to step up big this season after the release of Peter Warrick. It is a given that Chad Johnson will be double teamed a lot this season. These two and the rest of the receivers will have to step up in order for the Bengals to have a successful season.
8. The Bengals’ defense. Under new defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan, the defense will need to improve after finishing last year as the 19th ranked defense in the league. The season ending injury to safety Kim Herring hurts but second year safety Madieu Williams is poised for a breakout year.
7. The Bengals’ offensive line. Anchored by tackle Willie Anderson, this group needs to play tough and open up some holes to give running back Rudi Johnson room to rack up some yards.
6. Rudi Johnson. As he begins his fifth season with the team he will have to be a viable option for Palmer if the recievers are covered.
5. Crucial away games. In addition to the Sunday night game in Jacksonville, the Bengals face tough road games against the Titans, Chiefs, and the Lions.
4. Marvin Lewis. This season will be the third for the Bengals. After two seasons guiding the team to an 8-8 record, he looks to break this record and finally achieve his first winning season as a head coach.
3. The 12th man: The crowd at Paul Brown Stadium. Home games against the Packers, Colts, Vikings, and divisional opponents loom for the Bengals. When the Steelers come to town on December 4th, the hope is that Bengals’ fans won’t let the Steelers and their fans make Paul Brown Stadium look like Heinz Field West by using their terrible towels.
2. Chad Johnson. The two time Pro Bowler will have to fight off the defensive backs and catch some highlight reel passes for the team this year.
1. Carson Palmer. He will have to be reliable in the pocket and improve his mobility so the team will be successful.