1) Andy Dalton fascinates me. He always seems like a quarterback who's just good enough to help a good team win, but never good enough to carry an offense. How do Bengals fans feel about him?
This is the question I get more than any other when it comes to this Bengals team and it is a tough one...hence my wordy answer!
Andy Dalton is a lightning rod amongst Bengals fans and media alike. He has his supporters and he has a very large (and loud) group of detractors. I fall somewhere in the middle, however, I often find myself defending him against the crazy detractors.
I don't think there are any Bengals fans 100% sold that Dalton is "the guy" - that is tough to say when he is 0-3 in the playoffs and struggles in big games. However, I think he does have the ability to be "the guy."
Your assessment on Dalton is accurate and common. He does not do anything particularly great and he does not have any physical tools that are going to wow you. However, he is a stable leader who can be very accurate, and like you said, can win with a good team around him. After all, this is a guy, who as a rookie with no training camp, took a team that many had predicted would go 0-16 and lead them to 9-7 and a wildcard appearance.
With that being said, there are some fans who believe Dalton can do no right. When the Bengals lose, he gets all the blame. When they win, he gets none of the credit - in fact, those fans say the Bengals win in spite of Dalton, or Dalton got lucky or my favorite, he only wins because he has AJ Green. These fans think Dalton should be Peyton Manning and therefore are never going to be satisfied with him.
When it comes to Dalton, I do not believe he will ever be a quarterback that can carry a team, by his lonesome, like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, etc. I do, however, believe that with the right coaching staff he can take a talented team to (and even win) a Super Bowl - much like a Joe Flacco or Trent Dilfer did with the Ravens. Will he? Only time will tell.
In 11 games this season, Dalton has been solid or very good in nine and brutal in two. However, the two brutal games (Indianapolis and Clevleland) were not just a result of his own poor play, but were a combination of drops by receivers, poor line protection, poor play calling and injuries.
All in all, I think Dalton is an above average quarterback that cannot carry a team, but is certainly good enough to win with.
2) Giovani Bernard vs. Jeremy Hill is an interesting battle. Who's the better player? Is there room for both in the Cincinnati backfield?
Bernard and Hill are both excellent, but completely different, running backs.
Bernard is smaller (5'9", 208 pounds), lightning quick, elusive and has hands like a wide receiver. Bernard can be an every down running back, but excels in plays when the Bengals get him in space against linebackers.
Hill on the other hand is the definition of a "bell cow" running back. At 6'1", 238 pounds, Hill is excellent between the tackles and can run defenders over. Despite his size, Hill has surprising speed, quickness, elusiveness and hands.
Because of how different they are, there is definitely room for both in the same backfield and the Bengals drafted them both in the 2nd round in back-to-back years with the intent of doing just that. I would argue that Hill and Bernard give the Bengals the best (and youngest) split backfield in the NFL.
3) Do you miss Michael Johnson and Anthony Collins or have the Bengals been able to keep on trucking without them?
Michael Johnson and Anthony Collins were both excellent players for the Bengals and even better human beings in the community. Bengals management (and fans) would have loved to see both back, however, it was strictly a financial decision.
Anthony Collins was a backup for the Bengals - a very good backup, but a backup. The Bengals have big money wrapped up at both tackle positions (Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith) and Collins would have been the third tackle. While they could really use him now with Smith out for the year (triceps), they could not afford to have three tackles making that kind of money.
As for Johnson, the Bengals had two excellent defensive ends coming up on free agency (Johnson and Carlos Dunlap) and with the money they already had wrapped up in Geno Atkins, they weren't going to be able to keep both. The Bengals offered Johnson a big deal before the 2013 season. Johnson turned it down and they used that money to sign the younger Carlos Dunlap instead. In preparation of losing one of them, the Bengals used a 3rd round pick in the 2013 draft to take Margus Hunt. Unfortunately, Hunt is very raw and has yet to fill the void left by Johnson.
4) Are the Bengals going to make it to the postseason? And how are they going to do if they get there?
Those are both good questions.
I still believe the Bengals are the best team in the AFC North but they have a tough schedule down the stretch including two games against the Steelers and one against the Browns. Those games will go a long way to deciding the division. When it is all said and done, I believe the Bengals tie with the Panthers will be what either wins them the division or gets them in as a wildcard.
Once they get there, your guess is as good as mine. They have a team built for a deep run, but I said that the last two years and when the bright lights came on, they flopped.
5) Care to predict the game?
I think the Bengals win, but I think it will be much closer than the records might suggest for a few reasons: 1) the Bengals have a tendency to let teams hang around; 2) the Bengals are 3-7 all-time versus the Buccaneers including 0-6 in their last six meetings and haven't won in Tampa since 1983; and 3) the Buccaneers two big receivers should be able to keep this game somewhat close.
Bengals 33, Buccaneers 23
PS: How angry are you that the NFC South will almost certainly send a losing team to the playoffs, while the AFC North has four seven-win teams?
Well, as long as the Bengals are one of the teams that make it from the AFC North, I am ok with it! While it is a bit frustrating, that is just the way things fall sometimes. We saw it a few years ago with the AFC West when the Seahawks made it at 7-9, but hey, they won a game. It may sound silly to say, but I believe the NFC South is better than their records indicate and I believe the the winner of this division has a very good chance of winning a game or two in the playoffs.