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Bengals don't have to be bad in 2001


On the surface it looks like one of the most unattractive games of the season. That's because it is.

A trip to Cincinnati in December to play a Bengals team that is finishing up their seventh 11-loss season in the last 10 qualifies as a necessary evil, but let's look a little deeper than the surface.

Are the Bengals really that bad? Yes.

Will the Bengals be just as bad next season? Maybe not.

No kiddin' folks, the Bengals may have something cookin' for the future. After all, the Bengals are a team with some impressive young players, such as Corey Dillon, Takeo Spikes, Brian Simmons, Willie Anderson and Peter Warrick. And they have some other guys who aren't readily noticeable due to glaring deficiencies at a few positions (most cornerback) that have compromised the total effort.

What the Bengals really have going for them is a great formula for future success. They have an empty salary cap, and a roster loaded with high picks with more on the way.

Would the Jaguars love to have those circumstances? You bet they would.

Sunday's game should be viewed in the future, not the present, because both teams' seasons will end with the following weekend's regular-season finales. Cincinnati fans want to know if the Bengals have closed any of the gap between themselves, the AFC Central's long-standing doormat, and the Jaguars, the division's two-time defending champion.

Jaguars fans have to consider the same. Where do the Jaguars stand for next season in the AFC Central? Next season will begin with the Titans and Ravens ranked at the top of the division, and the Jaguars and Steelers will be the next two likely contenders, with the Bengals and Browns, again, bringing up the rear. But it doesn't have to be that way.

The Bengals will be selecting in the top five of next spring's draft, they're expected to re-sign Dillon and they almost certainly will spend in free agency to solve their woes at cornerback, and they'll enjoy another fifth-place schedule next season.

What if they hire a coach who inspires enough confidence in owner Mike Brown to restructure the Bengals operations? What if Akili Smith blossoms into the quarterback the Bengals predicted he would become when they made him the third pick of the 1999 draft?

Beating the Bengals next season may not be as easy as it has seemingly always been, but, for now, it still is.

What do the Jaguars have to do to win in Cincinnati this Sunday? Just a few things: Stop Dillon, don't turn the ball over, and maintain their late-season energy against a 3-11 team that is looking for any excuse it can find to feel good.

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