Looking at the enemy: Cincinnati Bengals

Looking at the enemy: Cincinnati Bengals
May 17, 2013, 10:15 am
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Now that the schedule is set and the draft is over, CSNBaltimore.com is taking a chronological look at each of the Ravens 2013 opponents.

Weeks 10, 17: Cincinnati Bengals

Dates: Sunday, Nov. 10, 1 p.m., M&T Bank Stadium & Sunday, Dec. 29, 1 p.m., Paul Brown Stadium

2012 Record: 10-6, AFC wild-card; lost to Houston, 19-13, in first round of playoffs

Key offseason losses: DB Nate Clemens (unsigned); S Chris Crocker (unsigned); OLB Manny Lawson (to Buffalo); DT Pat Sims (to Oakland)  

Key additions: LB James Harrison (from Pittsburgh); C Mike Pollak (from Carolina)

Top 5 draft picks: TE Tyler Eifert (1st round, Notre Dame); RB Giovani Bernard (2nd round, North Carolina); DE Margus Hunt (2nd round, SMU); S Shawn Williams (3rd round, Georgia); LB Sean Porter (4th round, Texas A&M)

Overview: The Bengals are coming off back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in 30 years, and are the trendy pick to supplant the Ravens and Steelers atop the AFC North. With a lot of weapons on offense and a strong defense, it's easy to see why.

But the Bengals will have to prove they can beat the Ravens and Steelers consistently, something they have not done in the past few years. (The Ravens and Bengals split last season, but the Bengals win came in the season-finale that both teams treated more like a glorified exhbibition game as they prepared for the playoffs).

Speaking of trendy, the two tight-end set appears to be all the rage these days, and the Bengals joined the party by taking Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert with their first-round draft pick. The Bengals already have Pro Bowl tight end Jermaine Gresham, as well as Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green to spearhead the passing game led by Andy Dalton, who threw for 3,669 yards, with 27 touchdowns and 16 interceptions last season.      

The Bengals grabbed North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard with their second-round pick, and he figures to serve as an understudy to BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

Offensive tackle Andre Smith, who tested free agency, ultimately re-signed with the Bengals, as did inside linebacker Rey Maualuga (152 tackles) and defensive end Robert Geathers.

The Bengals made their biggest free agency splash on defense, grabbing former Steeler James Harrison. The oft-fined linebacker was a cap casualty in Pittsburgh, and he will try to show the Steelers, Ravens and others that he still has some gas left in the tank at age 35.

Defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who had 12 1/2 sacks -- a team record for an interior lineman -- returns as the centerpiece of the Bengals' front seven, and Cincinnati scored a coup with the play of inside linebacker Vontaze Burfict. He plunged from potential first-round draft pick to undrafted free agent after a series of pre-draft issues last year but finished with a team-high 174 tackles in the regular season.

If there's a major question mark for the Bengals, it's in the secondary. Former first-round draft pick Dre Kirkpatrick missed most of last season with a knee injury. The Bengals chose not to re-sign veterans Chris Crocker and Nate Clemens, both of whom are 33. They passed on several safeties available early in the draft, taking Shawn Williams from Georgia in the third round. He'll compete for a job alongside free safety Reggie Nelson.

No doubt the pieces are in place for Cincinnati to challenge for AFC North supremacy. But don't expect the Ravens and Steelers to hand over the crown without a fight. It could all come down to the regular-season finale, which will pit the Ravens against the Bengals for the third year in a row.