When ESPN.com rolled out the first NFL Power Rankings of the year, the Bengals landed squarely at No. 32. My sense of the negativity was that people saw the Carson Palmer fiasco play out and, because it's the Bengals, naturally thought, "chaos." For various reasons, Cincinnati seems to draw more than its fair share of rolled eyes.
With Palmer out of the picture, and then Chad Ochocinco, one thing that was overstated was the idea that there was a major talent void or a lack of a plan. That simply isn't the case. Just look at what I wrote the day the NFL draft ended:
They've received their fair share of negativity over the years, but you have to give the Bengals a lot of credit for what they accomplished in 2011. They can see the big roster voids on the horizon at quarterback and wide receiver, and they didn't wait. A.J. Green is a superstar in the making, and considering the run on quarterbacks before the middle of the first round, getting Andy Dalton was a steal by comparison. Dontay Moch is a pass-rushing specialist who will make plays, and they got good value in Clint Boling and Robert Sands. A great three days for the Bengals.
I gave the Bengals one of the top two grades in the draft, because not only did they nail key needs while getting tremendous value, but this draft seemed borne of a focused plan to make the team better immediately, as difficult as the off-the-field circumstances were with Palmer.
So far, so good.
The Bengals aren't off to a remarkable start at 2-2, but they aren't being discussed as No. 32 anymore. I don't have a massive treatise on where things will go, but here are some observations on what seems to be a key to the success. In each case, you get a sense that there's real hope for the future.