Around the NFL's season preview continues with the AFC North.
Change we can believe in
Geno Atkins is back, baby! After being called a JAG by his defensive coordinator after last season, the defensive tackle has been unstoppable this offseason. When Atkins is a penetrating force in the middle, it opens up the pass rush on the outside. With as deep a secondary as Marvin Lewis has deployed, if Atkins is back to the All-Pro form of 2012, this will be a scary defense to contend with -- even with the questions at linebacker.
(Deletes 200-word Andy Dalton bashing, wherein the quarterback was compared to a piñata at a child's birthday party.)
The most unsteady unit on the Bengals' roster resides at linebacker, where Vontaze Burfict starts the season on the physically unable to perform list. Rey Maualuga is a solid, yet unspectacular middle linebacker. Emmanuel Lamur is athletic, but struggled in 2014 and Vincent Rey will be asked to help make up for Burfict's absence. A.J. Hawk can play multiple spots, but there is a reason the linebacker-needy Packers released him. This is a playmaking unit only with Burfict.
Training camp surprise
He might not take a snap this year, but AJ McCarron flashed potential that could give the Bengals' brass reason to reconsider their future under Dalton. While he might not be the most toolsy signal-caller, McCarron displays intelligence and illustrated this preseason that he can make most every NFL throw. If the Bengals finally decide to walk away from the uninspiring Dalton, McCarron's training camp and preseason might be the reason.
What we'll be saying in February
Predicted finish: Third place in AFC North, No. 7 in AFC, No. 14 overall in Around the NFL's Power Poll.