After a season of triumph and tragedy in which a march to the playoffs was marred by the death of receiver Chris Henry, the Bengals will look for their first back-to-back postseason appearance since 1982.
The starting unit of the league's fourth-ranked defense returns intact. The running game, led by tailback Cedric Benson, should be strong again. Most important, the club has taken the necessary steps to resuscitate the passing game and quarterback Carson Palmer.
The offseason acquisition of wide receiver Antonio Bryant provides the Bengals with an explosive complement to Chad Ochocinco and should turn a weakness into a strength.
"We need to keep putting pieces around our quarterback to enable him to utilize all the abilities he has," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis says. "We have to give him the best tool belt we can to put around him to get things done."
Offense: Coordinator Bob Bratkowski likes a wide-open, balanced attack so he can spread the field with three wideouts to complement a hammering ground game. A year ago, Bratkowski was handcuffed because he was unable to find a consistent No. 2 receiver to take the pressure off Ochocinco and the result was a one-dimensional unit that relied on the power running of Benson. Bryant's presence should make a huge difference in 2010, as he gives the passing game some much-needed punch. And if newly signed Terrell Owens can provide even some punch — and be well-behaved — he'll be a huge addition.
With a 0-2 playoff record and injuries over the years to his left knee, right elbow and left thumb, Palmer finally finds himself healthy — but also on the hot seat — as he enters his eighth NFL season. Blessed with talent that includes great size, arm strength, pocket presence and leadership ability, Palmer needs a postseason run to cement his status as one of the top quarterbacks in franchise history.
Michael Johnson, DE/OLB. Johnson (6-7, 260) is a tough situational pass-rushing machine, oozing talent and potential. He showed promise as a rookie, swatting passes with his wide wingspan and generating three sacks. He's worked hard to improve his upper-body strength and is now ready to be a force.
"I feel great. I've really been enjoying this spring. I'm ready to make things happen. I'm excited about what is to come. I don't think any challenge is too big. It's been a great learning experience. I'm trying to soak up as much information as I can and have fun doing it."
"Cincinnati has changed dramatically. I don't think they lost a division game a year ago. You look at good defense right from the beginning. And now you're getting a healthy Carson Palmer. He needed another weapon or two around him to enhance the passing game, and the team addressed that.
"The way the Bengals play defensively and offensively is impressive. Mike Zimmer has done a great job on defense there. Carson's healthy. They're running the ball better. It's good football."
The additional weapons on offense should allow Palmer to raise the level of the passing game, making the unit more balanced and explosive. The rock-solid defense has the veteran talent and leadership needed to be strong again, but Cincinnati's special teams need retooling.
QB: Carson Palmer, J.T. O'Sullivan
FB: Fui Vakapuna, Brian Leonard
RB: Cedric Benson, Bernard Scott
WR: Chad Ochocinco, Matt Jones
WR: Antonio Bryant, Andre Caldwell
TE: Jermaine Gresham, Reggie Kelly
LT: Andrew Whitworth, Anthony Collins
LG: Nate Livings, Evan Mathis
C: Kyle Cook, Jonathan Luigs
RG: Bobbie Williams, Otis Hudson
RT: Andre Smith, Dennis Roland
LE: Robert Geathers, Michael Johnson
LT: Domata Peko, Pat Sims
RT: Tank Johnson, Clinton McDonald
RE: Antwan Odom, Jonathan Fanene
SLB: Rey Maualuga, Rashad Jeanty
MLB: Dhani Jones, Roddrick Muckelroy
WLB: Keith Rivers, Brandon Johnson
CB: Johnathan Joseph, David Jones
CB: Leon Hall, Pacman Jones
SS: Roy Williams, Chinedum Ndukwe
FS: Chris Crocker, Gibril Wilson
K: Dave Rayner
P: Kevin Huber
KR: Bernard Scott
PR: Jordan Shipley
LS: Clark Harris
ProFootballTalk: Patriots QB Tom Brady addressed Wes Welker’s decision to head West to Denver. Brady says he isn’t surprised by anything after being in the league for so long and hopes that Welker has a great season with the Broncos.
2013 SNF Schedule
Check out the 2013 Sunday Night Football schedule.
Latest from ProFootballTalk
Video: Football from NBC Sports
Best of ProFootballTalk: May 20th-24th
ProFootballTalk: Check out the bloopers from the week of May 20th.
Check out some of the NFL cheerleaders from across the league.