This article is part of our Team Previews series.
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Expectations for the Bengals heading into 2011 couldn't have been any lower. Their franchise quarterback didn't want anything to do with the franchise, their marquee wide receiver was traded away at the eve of training camp and they lost an elite cover corner in free agency. Meanwhile, other top free agents stayed away in droves, and even coach Marvin Lewis was hanging by a thread, in small part because the lockout prevented owner Mike Brown from finding someone better. Then they looked awful in the preseason - not just losing, but appearing very much overmatched. The Bengals were on the short list of teams favored to have the top draft pick in 2012.
But as we've learned time and again, the NFL is a reshuffle league. As it turned out, Chad Ochocinco was pretty near toast by the time 2011 rolled around, or at the very least was an extremely poor fit for the Patriots. Getting two draft picks for him was a coup. Losing Carson Palmer wasn't nearly as painful as anticipated, as rookie Andy Dalton turned out to be an excellent game manager. It turns out a team can play better when it has players that actually want to be there. The defense was fantastic, at least in the first half of the season when the schedule was light and the unit was healthy. When Leon Hall went down with a torn ACL, however, the Bengals' lack of depth in the secondary was exposed.