I look at it this way. The bengals are better this year than last year. Just an opinion but they have looked awful in the preseason. Last season the Bengals lost these games which they very easily could have won. Cleveland, Seattle, Kansas City, Buffalo, Arizona, and San Fran. They could have won 6 more games last year than they did, and it really isn't a stretch to think a play or two plays in these games go a different way and the Bengals were a playoff team.
The Bengals have become a whipping boy of the national media, the source of negativity from everyone in this city, and the laughing stock of football. Chad is back playing for a contract. Carson is thought of as a top flight QB. The D should be better. I like Rivers and the secondary this season. Odem should be an upgrade on the pass rush over Smith.
I think this team will compete to win the AFC North and Wild Card. A 9-7 team may win the AFC north this season. You can never tell how strong a schedule will be until the season gets underway. In 05 the schedule was supposed to be a killer but it ended up fairly easy. I think this team can win anywhere between 7-11 games. I hope for the higher figure but if things start to go bad it could very easily turn into a bad season.