As we head to the regular season, we’re continuing our preseason tradition of holding Q&A sessions with bloggers who cover the Patriots’ upcoming opponent. Three-Way Chili is an awesome Cincinatti sports blog that’s been part of Bloguin for nearly a year now. I asked the site’s lead writer, Dave Biddle, a series of questions about the Bengals, and he, in turn, asked me a few about the Pats. His responses are below, followed by a link to Foxboro Blog’s Q&A session on Three-Way Chili.
1. Perhaps the biggest news for the Bengals this off-season was the signing of Terrell Owens. How do you see T.O. fitting in with the team, particularly teammate, Chad Ochocinco?
You have to understand that the Bengals were severely lacking in divas, reality TV stars and trouble-makers in general, so landing Owens was a key move. It really helps balance out the rest of the roster which is made up primarily choir boys and eagle scouts.
In all seriousness, the acquisition of Owens was very important for the Bengals and it came at a bargain (base salary of $2 million, legitimate incentives that could reach as much as $1 million, incentives that T.O. has no chance of reaching also totaling in $1 million). The team was in desperate need of a No. 2 receiver that could take the pressure off of Chad Ochocinco and Owens appears to be an ideal fit. Laveranues Coles failed miserably in his try at the role last year, and then the Bengals went out and foolishly wasted $7 million in guaranteed dollars on Antonio Bryant this offseason, who was cut during training camp because his knee never fully healed from last season’s injury with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Nice work there by the Bengals’ medical staff in clearing him during his physical before he signed. The Bengals’ medical staff is made up of Mike Brown’s great-grandchildren who have played the game Operation at least once. They have standards around this proud organization, you know?!)
Owens was able to keep his nose clean during the dumpster fire that was the Buffalo Bills’ 2009 season, so I think he’ll be somewhat of a model citizen this year … at least for his standards. The Bengals are a solid team and he’s got a quarterback in Carson Palmer that can make all the throws. T.O.’s friendship with Ochocinco also helps the situation because they appear more focused on winning than trying to put up outlandish statistics. (It was T.O. himself who said he knew he had no chance at reaching the final $1 million of his incentives.)
Obnoxious, yet funny, touchdown celebrations — and the ensuing fines from the NFL front office – should also be an intriguing storyline to follow this season in Cincinnati. They always have been, but they just doubled in probability with the arrival of tropical storm Owens.
2. What are you the most excited about heading into the 2010 season?
Well, as a Bengal fan, it’s just nice to be relevant in the NFL and know that they have a legitimate chance at defending their AFC North championship (and perhaps even win a playoff game for a change). I know most people are picking the Baltimore Ravens to rise above the Bengals this year – and I can see that point of view – but this is an extremely well-rounded Cincinnati squad. They have a good running game behind Cedric Benson, as well as the potential to have a quality passing attack if Palmer can find his old form and Owens is truly the No. 2 the Bengals have needed since the departure of T.J. Houshmandzadeh (whose stock has fallen faster than BP’s, but was still a nice waiver wire pickup for the Ravens … dammit). The Bengals also have a very good defense under coordinator Mike Zimmer. In fact, talk to any Bengal fan and they’ll tell you it’s the best defense of their lifetime. They ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense and sixth in scoring D last year. Usually it’s more like 24th and 26th, but Zimmer has turned things around in a hurry led by an impressive crop of young players.
3. What do you think the Bengals’ weak point is?
Team discipline and perhaps the play-calling of longtime offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. The Bengals are never a well-coached team and that will be one huge advantage for the Patriots in this game. Marvin Lewis is the best coach the Bengals have had since Sam Wyche, but that is saying very little. His teams still play with a lack of composure and he struggles himself in terms of clock management and many of the other small things that good coaches have down to a science.
As for Bratkowski’s ability to coordinate an offense, opposing defenses figured him out long ago and he appears to be far too predictable at times. It will be interesting to see if anything changes this year, but at least this one Bengal fan is skeptical about it.
4. The Bengals have a ridiculously hard schedule this year: Steelers x2, Ravens x2, Patriots, Jets, Dolphins, Chargers, Colts, Saints, and Falcons. That’s 11 games against legitimate playoff contenders. How big of a factor will the schedule play in the team’s success?
It’s incredibly huge and it’s why I don’t think they’ll have as good of a record they did last year (10-6, including 6-0 in their division) even though they’re a better team this year. This is a brutal schedule and the Bengals don’t have the discipline it will take to win 10 or more games. They clearly have the talent in my opinion, but attention to detail (the lack thereof) and overall team immaturity will prevent a truly great season.
5. What is your prediction for the Bengals this year?
I think they’ll be 9-7 and will hope that will be enough to sneak in the playoffs. Likely, it will take 10-6, so if my prediction rings true, the Bengals will be home for the postseason. But this is one of the best rosters they’ve compiled in my many years of following the team and only their grueling schedule is going to prevent them from making the playoffs. That is the price they pay for being divisional champs. (Shouldn’t there be a rule that the following year’s schedule shouldn’t be so tough for a divisional champ that got their asses handed to them by a wildcard team in the first round? The Bengals actually got smoked by the Jets in two consecutive weeks to close out last season.)
6. What is your prediction for the Patriots this season?
I think they’ll be 10-6, perhaps 11-5. I found it interesting that the over/under according to Vegas was 9.5 regular-season wins for the Patriots and I quickly gobbled up the over. I think they’ll at least go 10-6 and have the chance to do better than that. I envision a big year for Tom Brady, especially if Wes Welker is back close to full strength. They still have Randy Moss as the big-play threat and Julian Edelman provides good insurance if Welker isn’t ready to go. A big question mark is at the running back position, but I think New England will get a lot of production out of the position and that’s the bottom line. The only issue is who will get the most touches and it’s likely to be Laurence Maroney who has never truly won over Bill Belichick. Could this be the year? They also have Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris and third-down specialist Kevin Faulk.
The Patriots’ defense will be solid and they always play the Bengals well. I think this will be a good ballgame, but Bengal mistakes and good execution by the Patriots late in the game will lead the home team to victory. 27-17 Patriots.