The Cincinnati Bengals last missed the postseason in three straight years from 2006-08, but they enter this one looking to avoid that from happening again. Somehow, coach Marvin Lewis’ job is safe again, maybe because Cincinnati looks capable of regrouping and rebounding from those two lost campaigns.
While doing so likely won’t be easy, there’s hope in Cincinnati. The Bengals might be closer to a playoff contender than they seem. The talent is there with stars like A. J. Green and Geno Atkins, whether there’s consistent support behind them remains to be seen, but it’s possible.
Even with a 1,000-yard receiving season from Green and decent rookie effort from running back Joe Mixon, the Bengals ranked 26th in scoring (18.1 points per game) and last in the league in total offense (280.5 yards per game). The x-factor continues to be quarterback Andy Dalton.
In 2015 when Cincinnati won the AFC North with a 12-4 record, the Red Rifle completed a career-best 66.1 percent of his passes, threw a career-low seven interceptions and was sacked just 20 times. However, since then Dalton has been sacked 80 times, and last season posted a completion percentage of 59.9 – worst since his 2011 rookie year.
If Dalton can revert to that 2015 form, the Bengals might be OK. He should be helped by an improved offensive line that includes tackle Cordy Glenn, who came over from Buffalo, and first-round pick Billy Price at center. If the sack totals decrease and Dalton gets more time to throw, the offense can improve, and with the new additions, it should. As always, as Dalton goes so do the Bengals.
More than one man
Defensively, Vontaze Burfict is one of the most gifted linebackers in the league, but if the Bengals insist on living with his unpredictably off the field and childish antics on it, then they must again be ready for life without him occasionally. That’s the case for the first four games this season after Burfict violated the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Last season, the Bengals were 1-5 without Burfict. However, it looks like they’ve prepared accordingly for his absence by signing ex-Buffalo linebacker Preston Brown to play middle linebacker after he tied for the NFL lead with 144 tackles last season. Third-round pick Malik Jefferson has the talent to fill in for Burfict right away while the Bengals try to improve a defense that ranked second in the league yielding 17.4 points per game in 2015, 19.7 in 2016 and 21.8 last season.
After Price, six of the Bengals’ next seven picks were defensive players. They apparently believe those offensive woes from 2017 were a fluke and devoted themselves to providing more depth on the defensive side of the ball through the draft.
Proving their worth
Though Cincinnati has road games at Carolina and Atlanta in the first month of the season and also visits the Chiefs and Chargers in non-conference action, its schedule is not overly daunting. The Bengals went 3-5 away from home last season, highlighted by an improbable comeback win at Baltimore in Week 17 to keep the Ravens from the postseason.
With home dates against those Ravens, Miami and Tampa Bay, it’s not wrong to think Cincinnati can be 5-3 heading into its bye week. It seems simple, Dalton must be protected better and the defense needs to be competitive without Burfict to start. Throw in a little good fortune, and the Bengals might be headed to the postseason once again.
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