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Playoff-contending Bengals throw T.O. a big lifeline -- and vice versa

1. T.O. can still generate quite the buzz after all these years.

Whether it is the controversy that he created in his first four NFL stops with the Niners, Eagles, Cowboys and Bills, or his latest reality show, Owens is still one of the NFL's most recognizable players. That's quite a feat considering he will turn 37 during the season, and by all accounts, is a descending player.

GALLERY: Rare photos of Terrell Owens

That said, his numbers in Buffalo last season (55 catches, 829 yards, five TDs) were much better than most people think -- especially coming from a Bills team that had serious problems at quarterback and the offensive line. The more telling number, however, is the 15.1 yards per catch Owens averaged over the course of the season. That's right in line with where he has been over the course of his career and should be the first statistic mentioned by any Owens supporter hoping to dispel the notion that he has lost a step. If T.O. can duplicate those numbers this year, there's a good chance Cincinnati will make the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since 1982.

2. The Bengals don't want any built-in excuses on their way to a second straight postseason berth.

The Bengals primarily have been known for their futility over the past two decades. Even when they have a good season and win the division, like they did in 2005, they have been unable to maintain that level of performance. Cincinnati truly believes it can change that this year, and signing T.O. is the latest indication the club is willing to do whatever it takes to be a winner.

And with good reason. Top to bottom, the Bengals have quietly built one of the best rosters in the NFL. They are young, deep, and talented at almost every position. In fact, the only thing that really let them down at times last season -- the passing game -- was the one facet they could depend on from 2006-08. Carson Palmer was not accurate late in the year and Chad Ochocinco was not able to shake free of the heavy coverage that was often sent in his direction.

T.O. will help, as will third-year receiver Andre Caldwell, who head coach Marvin Lewis recently called the most improved player during spring workouts. They also used their first-round pick this season to take Jermaine Gresham, an athletic, receiving tight end capable of being split out wide as a receiver.

3. Antonio Bryant's knee is a serious concern for the Bengals.

It's easy to forget that, back in March, the Bengals addressed their need at wideout by signing free agent Bryant, who was coming off a disappointing, injury-plagued season in Tampa Bay.

So why do the Bengals need T.O., too? The more people you talk to in Cincy, the more you hear that Bryant's knee is in such bad shape and that he's nowhere close to being able to run and cut like NFL receivers should. That means somebody in Cincinnati has some explaining to do. Owner Mike Brown will want to start with his medical staff since they passed Bryant's physical in the first place. Then he will want to look himself in the mirror, since he signed off on a four-year, $28 million deal to a guy who started only 11 games in 2009 and caught 39 passes -- the result of a balky knee. That's just bad business any way you slice it.

4. Mike Brown continues to sign the players that no other teams in the NFL will touch.

It is seriously almost comical at this point. Name a guy who seemingly had run out of chances and could no longer get any sniffs in the NFL, and there is a good chance he's currently on the Bengals roster.

Pacman Jones, Cedric Benson, Tank Johnson, Matt Jones, and now T.O. are the latest examples. Though Owens has never gotten into trouble off the field, like the others, he was still considered toxic enough that the vast majority of NFL teams wouldn't even consider him. At any price.

But thankfully for T.O., Brown doesn't really care what anybody else thinks, which on some level you have to admire. Then again, USC head coach Lane Kiffin clearly doesn't pay any attention to what others think of him either -- and nobody really admires him much these days. Brown believes in talent and getting some of that talent at significantly undervalued prices, regardless of whether they're known for bad off-field behavior or locker-room divisiveness. The old saying in pro sports is that, 'You can have one bad apple on your team, but if there are a couple, the whole group could get rotten.' The Bengals are experimenting to see what happens when you have about a half-dozen.