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Around the North: An Interview with Bengals Gab Editor Eric McMackin

Here at Sports Gab Network, we have a real good staff of writers, and a couple good ones right here in the AFC North. So for the next couple days, we’ll catch up with some of our North bloggers, and today we chat with Bengalsgab editor Eric McMackin, as he answers some questions about the rival Bengals:

What is the Vibe in Cincinnati with all the offseason moves in Bengal Country?

The vibe has been overwhelmingly positive. While reactions from the national pundits has been mixed, the fan base has really been impressed by the team’s activity this offseason. The front office has been surprisingly aggressive in adding solid veteran players to the roster and shoring up depth through the draft. Best of all, there were no major losses or defections that weakened the team as has been the case in years past.

With the addition of Antonio Bryant and Jermaine Gresham and already having Ocho Cinco and Carson Palmer how good could this offense become in years to come?

That is the key question facing the team as they head into 2010.  The defense was clearly their strength (#4 overall in team defense) and it returns intact. The offense, however, sputtered for much of the year.  Laveranues Coles did not provide an adequate replacement for T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the tight end position was devastated by injuries and Chris Henry passed away, leaving the team with Chad Ochocinco (who was double and triple covered regularly) and a cast of unreliable targets to work with.  Some question Palmer’s abilities after the elbow injury from 2008 as his accuracy looked poor at points during the year.  I tend to disagree.  I think Palmer is not the problem; the receivers are.

That brings us to the additions of Bryant and Gresham, both of who should start week one.  Everything I’ve heard from the NFC South writers is that Bryant is an absolute beast when healthy and will certainly be an upgrade over the aging and diminutive Coles.  Gresham gives Palmer a legit target down the middle of the field, and the team also added Texas WR Jordan Shipley and Kansas WR Dez Briscoe in the draft.  Plus they brought in former first-round WR Matt Jones, late of Jacksonville, and he’s been getting rave reviews for improved work ethic, freakish size and reliable hands.

I think Marvin Lewis will want to continue to grind it out in the running game with Cedric Benson, but these new targets should give the team much more balance.  I even read that offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski pulled the no-huddle offense out of mothballs for OTA’s based upon the talent they have on offense again.

The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1990, If Marvin Lewis doesn’t win this year will he finally be on the Hot seat?

Bengals fans feel the team would have won in the playoffs in 2005 had Palmer not gotten injured on their first offensive play by Steelers DT Kimo Von Ollenhoffen. As for last year, their late-season swoon was very disappointing, but kicker Shayne Graham was the player most directly responsible for that playoff loss and he’s gone. The fact is that Marvin Lewis has brought 2 division championships, something unheard of since the days of Sam Wyche. He has a winning record as a head coach, and has his program firmly in place. It’s a well-documented fact that owner Mike Brown hates change. All of this adds up to Lewis coaching the Bengals as long as he wants to. That said, Lewis is in the final year of his current contract, and has rebuffed the team’s efforts to give him an extension to date. Speculation swirls that he’s looking for more concessions from the team (read: power), and that he’s getting burned out. Some have speculated that after this season, he’ll move to a front office position with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer taking over as coach, ensuring the team doesn’t lose the promising defensive coach to another team.

I personally think he’ll eventually sign an extension and stay on. At any rate as long as the team is “competitive” and makes a playoff appears once every 3 years or so, he can coach for life.

What would make this season a success in Cincinnati?

Marvin Lewis would say, “Win the Super Bowl.”  That, of course, would be nice. Realistically, another playoff appearance and first round playoff victory would be the next logical step for the program.  That alone will be a very tall order with the Ravens, Steelers, and Browns in the division, plus the up-and-coming Jets, the fading but dangerous Patriots, the powerful Chargers, and king Colts in the AFC.  With the roster they’ve built though, anything less than a playoff appearance would be an abject failure.

The Bengals have an extra Preseason game being in the Hall of Fame game, Do you think that is advantage or disadvantage?

Assuming there aren’t any devastating injuries to key players, I think the 5th preseason game can do nothing but help.  It gives them one more game film to use when making final roster decisions and they will need it this year with such incredible competition going on at WR, DB, and DL.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the last time the Bengals played in the Hall of Fame Game, in 1988, they went on to play in Super Bowl XXIII.  Over here at Bengals Gab we’re hoping history repeats itself.

What is your prediction on Wins and losses this season?

10-6 again in 2010 is what I’d predict.  Figure 6-2 at home and 4-4 on the road, with probably a 4-2 record in the division.  Some expect the team to fall back to the 7-9 to 9-7 range based upon their more difficult schedule.  At any rate, they should be in contention for the playoffs as the end of the season approaches.

Who is the favorite in the AFC North in 2010?

The Ravens are certainly improved, but I would give the nod to the Bengals.  They are the reigning champs after all, and again, their offseason work has been phenomenal.  A lot of talking heads want to crown the Ravens now, but I fail to see how they’ve separated from Cincinnati.  I think Pittsburgh may falter a bit, but that may be wishful thinking.  Despite the Roethlisberger suspension, the Santonio Holmes trade, and their failures last year, they are still dangerous.  Cleveland should improve under Mike Holmgren, and while I don’t see them making a run at the division, they could certainly make some noise and finish at .500 or better.

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