Bengals have unusually high expectations

The streak is already hanging over them.

The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, a

stretch of futility tied for seventh-longest in NFL history.

They’ve had four chances in the last eight years, and botched all

of them. They’ve gone to Houston each of the last two seasons and

lost miserably.

Make it 22 years without a postseason win.

Just getting to the playoffs again in 2013 would be a huge

accomplishment. No Bengals team has gone to the playoffs three

straight years. Even that wouldn’t be enough.

”Guys are not going to be satisfied just getting to the

playoffs anymore,” receiver Andrew Hawkins said. ”Now that we’ve

been there a couple of years and our core guys have been together

for three years, you see guys all focused toward that. There’s a

little better atmosphere for it.”

Five things that will decide whether they get back to the

playoffs and get that breakthrough win:

HANDLING THE EXPECTATIONS: The Bengals were considered a fluke

when they snared a wild card in 2011 – only one of their nine wins

that season came against a team that finished with a winning

record. They were better last year, but lost to Houston again.

While other playoff teams had significant turnover in the

offseason, the Bengals brought their roster back virtually intact,

making them an early favorite for the playoffs. But veterans know

the dynamic changes when a team is expected to win. ”One of the

hardest things to overcome is expectations,” cornerback Terence

Newman said. ”I think it’s easy when you’re the underdog because

you have to work, people are discrediting you. They’re not giving

you a chance. Once you get so much expectation and people pat you

on the back, some people start to believe it. It’s just the worst

thing possible.” The Bengals didn’t handle the pressure in the

playoffs. Now, they’re going to have a little bit of it from the

outset. Are they ready for it?

DALTON’S TIME: Dalton’s first two seasons have been an

unprecedented success by every measure except one. He’s the first

Bengals quarterback to lead them into the playoffs each of his

first two seasons. Now, it’s up to him to get them deeper into the

playoffs. A lot of it is on Dalton, who had two of his worst

showings in the playoffs. ”The team usually goes as the

quarterback goes,” Dalton said. ”That’s just kind of how football

is. The guy that has the ball in his hands every play, I think

that’s just how the game of football works. For people saying that,

they’re not saying anything new.” If he wants to be ranked among

the league’s best, Dalton is going to have to do much better this

time. ”You have to win big games – which he’s won – but you have

to win playoff games and then, obviously, win a Super Bowl to be

looked at as an elite quarterback in the NFL,” coach Marvin Lewis

said.

EIFERT AND GIO: The Bengals’ decision to keep their roster

intact meant few openings for a rookie to make an impact. Two of

them will get the chance. Tight end Tyler Eifert was drafted in the

first round and running back Giovani Bernard in the second to give

the passing game more diversity and provide Dalton with more

options. Also, the Bengals are counting on second-year receivers

Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones to emerge and make a difference on an

offense that ranked only 22nd last season. ”Something that’s

really good coming into this year is everybody’s back, the whole

offense is back, and we’ve added a couple of guys that are going to

help us,” Dalton said.

ADDITIONS ON DEFENSE: A unit that has been ranked in the NFL’s

Top 7 each of the last two years could be even better. Top pick Dre

Kirkpatrick missed most of his rookie season with a knee injury and

is ready to start making an impact as an extra cornerback.

Free-agent linebacker James Harrison made the 300-mile move from

Pittsburgh, bringing another pass rusher and a little fire to the

defense. The no-nonsense attitude was on display during training

camp when he shunned the HBO ”Hard Knocks” film crews that wanted

to focus on him. As cornerback Adam ”Pacman” Jones put it: ”He

gives you that swagger and that seal. You know when you mail off

the letter you make sure you put a stamp on it. Well, he’s the

stamp.”

MUCH DEPTH: Lewis has the deepest roster in his 11 seasons,

giving the Bengals a chance to weather injuries without a

significant drop-off – a problem in the past. The depth allowed

them to draft defensive end Margus Hunt – a track star turned

defensive end at Southern Methodist – in the second round, knowing

it’ll be a while before he learns the game enough to make an

impact. This year, they’re not desperately trying to fill holes.

”As far as the talent on this team, it’s unparalleled,” Newman

said. ”You can look at different teams and say, `Well they’ve got

this, they’ve got this.’ We have just as good as anybody

else.”

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org