It’s a new era in Cincinnati. And although it’s tough to tell if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, it’s impossible to descend from rock bottom. So what have the Bengals got to lose?

It’s a new era because Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco and top corner Johnathan Joseph are gone and Carson Palmer is sitting at home. As a result, young dudes like Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham will be counted on as centerpieces of the future. They’re young, unproven and they have a lot to grasp in a short amount of time, so expect growing pains.

Exhibit A: Cincy was dominated in every facet of the game by the Detroit Lions in their first preseason matchup.

Patience will be required here, too.

2010 in a nutshell: The defense fails to get enough pressure and the offense is inconsistent. They surrender an embarrassing 49 points against the Bills and finish with the second-worst record in football.

Three predictions for 2011:

1. It will be a tough year for Andy Dalton: A ginger in orange. It’s perfect for the team’s marketing guys, but it might be a disastrous year on the field. The No. 35 overall pick out of TCU will be counted on to start from the get-go due to Palmer’s absence. But the Bengals are also trying to learn new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden’s west coast offense in a short period of time while adjusting to life without Ocho and Owens. Dalton benefits from having the reliable Andrew Whitworth protecting his blind side and flashy rookie A.J. Green in the receiving corps, but it’s still going to take some time for the passing game to develop chemistry and consistency. In the meantime, a lot will fall on the shoulders of Cedric Benson.

2. They’ll survive the loss of Johnathan Joseph: Joseph is a great cover corner, but the thrifty Bengals weren’t willing to pay him in free agency and he’s now a Houston Texan. But the team knows it has another stellar corner in Leon Hall and they replaced Joseph with the talented Nate Clements at a much more reasonable price. The defense as a whole should still be solid. They kept all of the key pieces together this summer while adding Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard. If they can find a way to register more sacks, they’ll keep games closer than expected.

3. They won’t miss Owens or Ocho: Green is going to be a stud and the team feels that former second-round pick Jerome Simpson can complement Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham well. Ochocinco isn’t the same player anymore and Owens is coming off of knee surgery. Those two were taking up space on the roster. Now, Green, Simpson and Gresham will have a chance to quickly establish a rapport with their new franchise quarterback.

The final word(s): There are obviously some promising signs for the future, but they just don’t spend enough money for this to be a quick overhaul. The rebuilding ┬áprocess will take at least a year or two. If we’re only talking about 2011, a 4-12 team probably got slightly worse. I’m giving them a 3-13 record this season.

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