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Catching up with … the Bengals

06.19.12 at 12:28 am ET
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Andy Dalton threw for 20 touchdowns in his rookie season with the Bengals. (AP)

Part of a continuing series that takes a look at what some of the Patriots’ biggest competition in the AFC is doing this offseason. We’ve already looked at the JetsRavens, Steelers, Broncos and Texans. Today, we take a look at the Bengals:

The last time we saw the Bengals, they had survived the fistfight that is the AFC North, going 9-7 and making the postseason. Sure, they were depantsed in the wild-card round by the Texans, 31-10, but the fact that Cincinnati was able to finish above .500 and reach the postseason is certainly a step in the right direction for Marvin Lewis and the Bengals. They’ll look to build on that in 2012 with one of the better offseasons in the NFL.

Who they added: The Bengals made some wise free-agent signings, including BenJarvus Green-Ellis, cornerback Jason Allen (Houston) and guard Jacob Bell (St. Louis). They also added defensive linemen Jamaal Anderson and Derrick Harvey. In addition, they had what many consider to be a very good draft, getting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama) and offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler (Wisconsin) in the first round, to go along with defensive lineman Devon Still (Penn State) in the second round and safety George Iloka (Boise State) in the fifth round, two players who many believe can contribute immediately.

Who’s gone: The Bengals lost a pair of quality defensive linemen in Frostee Rucker (Cleveland) and Jonathan Fanene (New England) in free agency.

What they think of the Patriots: There’s no bad blood between the two teams, but it’s worth mentioning that they effectively pulled off an offseason trade through free agency, swapping Green-Ellis for Fanene. While Green-Ellis will be used as the primary back for the Bengals, look for Fanene to be used situationally (primarily as an interior pass rusher) in his first season in New England.

Analysis: The Bengals finished strong and made great strides in the offseason, but they’re still victims of geography: Frankly, it will still take a massive effort for them to be consistent playoff performers in the always brutally tough AFC North, a division that has almost always been ruled by the Steelers and Ravens. It can be done, and Cincinnati has taken a lot of steps in the right direction over the last 12 months, but until the Bengals can prove themselves to be a consistent winner — that is to say, when they can put together back-to-back trips to the postseason — they are at the back-end of the playoff picture in the AFC.

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