- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Power Rankings: Preseason: No. 12. This week: No. 26.
Where they stand: In addition to the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings, the Cincinnati Bengals are among the NFL's biggest underachievers this season. Coming off a division sweep and playoff appearance in 2009, many expected Cincinnati to build on that success with another playoff push. But sloppy play, poor coaching and lack of continuity have unraveled this team, and as we mentioned last week, it's time to blow it up and start over. At 2-6, it will be a long eight games in Cincinnati.
Falling: It's been a team-wide failure for the Bengals, so there are a lot of people to place in this category. Quarterback Carson Palmer has been a disappointment this season. Despite increased talent around him, Palmer has been too inconsistent and has a penchant for turnovers. Star receiver Chad Ochocinco also has been shut out in too many games and is getting frustrated by his lack of opportunities. The defense hasn't played anywhere near last year's level and has major issues rushing the passer. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis also deserves blame, because the team rarely looks ready to play for four quarters and fails to correct the same errors week after week.
Rising: Receiver Terrell Owens, who was signed late in free agency, has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise abysmal season for Cincinnati. He leads the team in receptions (55) yards (770) and touchdowns (seven). Owens signed a one-year deal full of incentives, and he's on pace to hit all of them.
Midseason MVP: Owens is the easy choice. He doesn't look anything like a 36-year-old receiver and will enter free agency next year with very good numbers. The Bengals have an interesting decision to make if they want to try to sign Owens to a long-term deal.
Outlook: The Bengals are done. The Pittsburgh Steelers ended any small chance Cincinnati had of a second-half push on Monday night. The question now is will the Bengals, at 2-6, quit or keep fighting? As last year proved, there is some character and toughness on this team. But this is a different kind of challenge when there's nothing to play for. The Bengals certainly have enough talent to be a dangerous spoiler in the second half of the season. But I have doubts if they're a strong enough team to keep it together.