- Associated Press - Saturday, September 10, 2011

CINCINNATI (AP) - They know what fans think of them, and it’s not very much. There’s talk of an 0-16 season in Cincinnati, another year of setting new franchise lows with the same owner and coach presiding over a new cast of players.

How could the Bengals’ ignore it?

Better yet, how do they stop it?

Win one in Cleveland.

The Bengals could prove _ for one week, anyway _ that they’re not the worst team in Ohio, let alone the worst in the league. The intrastate rivalry on Sunday provides a chance to end all the talk about being No. 32 in the NFL.

“We haven’t really talked about that,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “It hasn’t really been our focus. But I would hope every competitor in here knows that and realizes that’s how people think about them, and that’s the way we have to fight.

“It’s no different than any other year. The teams that go out fighting the hardest and want it the most are going to win, and we’ve got to be one of those teams.”

The Bengals put up a good fight last season, but kept self-destructing with turnovers and penalties and botched plays during a 4-12 season that wasn’t the league’s worst. Carolina got that honor, going 2-14 while the Bengals finished with the same mark as Denver and Buffalo.

Much of the pessimism comes from the offseason.

Coach Marvin Lewis played out his contract, looking for signs that the front office was committed to doing what is needed to win. Then, he agreed to stay even though owner Mike Brown said there would be no significant change in how the team operates.

A week later, franchise quarterback Carson Palmer threw in the towel, saying he’d rather retire than finish his contract with the Bengals. Disgruntled receiver Terrell Owens left as a free agent, and receiver Chad Ochocinco was traded to New England.

The Bengals are left with one of their greenest offenses ever for a season opener. Second-round pick Andy Dalton will become the first Bengals rookie quarterback to start an opener since 1969, the team’s second year. First-round pick A.J. Green is the top receiver. Fourth-round pick Clint Boling starts at right guard in place of suspended Bobbie Williams. Tight end Jermaine Gresham and slot receiver Jordan Shipley are starting their second seasons.

That’s a lot of inexperience.

“We have a lot of young players,” running back Cedric Benson said. “But we’re strong in the offensive line. We’ve got one adjustment there (Boling). We’re strong in the backfield. But we’re still growing. It’s a great opportunity for us to come together.”

The Browns weren’t much better last year, going 5-11 to finish one spot ahead in the AFC North. The teams split their series, each winning at home. The Browns took the first game 23-20 in October, while the Bengals broke a 10-game losing streak with their 19-17 win at Paul Brown Stadium in December.

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