Projected Record: 9-7
AFC North Rank: 3rd
During the draft, the Bengals made it a priority to improve their offense. In the first round, the Bengals drafted Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert with the 21st overall pick. The Bengals hope that the combination of Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Greshman will be able to produce offensively like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have during the past few seasons with the Patriots. Besides for All-Pro wide receiver, AJ Green, the Bengals do not have a talented receiving core. No other receiver on the team had more than 55 catches or 550 yards last season for the Bengals. This caused the Bengals to be ranked 17th in passing yards per game last year. In the second, they drafted running back Giovanni Bernard to improve their rushing attack. Last season, the received little production from their back up running backs. As BenJarvus Green-Ellis enters the twilight years of his career, the Bengals will need another quality ball carrier to carry the load. Bernard looks like he will be able to produce and give the Bengals a dual threat at the running back position. The Bengals feel like they will improve their 18th ranked rushing attack from last seasons.
During free agency, the Bengals spent most of their money on the defensive side of the ball. The Bengals’ biggest offseason acquisition was outside linebacker James Harrison. They hope that Harrison still has the ability to record a few sacks and streak fear in receivers who cross the middle. The Bengals have one of the best front four in the NFL, which enables them to apply pressure on the quarterback whole only sending four rushers. The Bengal starting lineman combined for 30 sacks, including 12.5 from Geno Atkins, one of the best defensive players in the league. Atkins is a quick and strong defensive tackle, who can disrupt plays in the back field. The constant pressure that the front four was able to put on the quarterback allowed their talented to play tight defense and restrict quarterbacks to only 213 yards per game, 7th best in the league. The Bengals hope that Vontaze Burfict, with another year of experience, will make the Bengals rush defense a lot better than the 12th best running defense in the league. If the Bengals are going to overtake the Ravens and Steelers, the defense is going to have to be ranked top 5 and force a lot of turnovers.
The Bengals have made the playoffs the last two seasons. The Bengals will have a chance to win the division and make the playoffs because the Ravens had a lot of changes and the Steelers are not the dominant team of a few years ago. The first five games of the season will be difficult for the Bengals. Cincinnati plays @Bears, Steelers (Monday Night), Packers, @Browns, and Patriots. The Bengals will make a statement if they can win 3 of the five games, but I believe they will only win two of the games. The game against the Bears is winnable, but it is on the road so I give the advantage to the Bears. The Bengals should win two of the next four games. The Bengals should beat the Steelers at home and should either beat the Browns on the road or the Pats at home. After the first five games, they will play three of the next six games on the road against mediocre teams. The Bengals play @Bills, @Lions, Jets, @Dolphins, @Ravens, and Browns. The Bengals will win four of the six games they play before their week ten bye week.
The week ten bye will enable the Bengals to recover for a final stretch of the season. The Bengals will head into their final five games with a 6-5, but will have to win at least three to compete for a playoff position. The Bengals will play @Chargers, Colts, @Steelers, Vikings, Ravens. The Bengals will probably win four of the final five games and finish with around ten wins for the third straight season. Cincinnati will lose only to the Steelers on the rode. The Ravens will probably have clinched the division so they will not play their hardest. With nine or ten wins, the Bengals will be battling for a chance to make the playoffs. However, in the playoffs, the Bengals will lose first round like the previous three seasons because they do not have the offense to match the other AFC teams.
On offense, the Bengals whole season will be predicated on how much Andy Dalton improves from last season. As I have mentioned in many of my articles, a team will only go as far as their quarterback will take them. Dalton and the Bengals remind me of Mark Sanchez and the Jets from a few years ago. Although Dalton is a nice quarterback, he is just a glorified game manager. The Bengals have been led by their defense the last few years. However, their defense is not good enough to lead them to playoff wins like the Jets. If Dalton can improve like the other young quarterbacks around the league, the Bengals will become dangerous. Andy does not have any excuses because the Bengals now have three good receiving options.
On defense, Vontaze Burfict will be important for the Cincinnati Bengals this season. Last year, Burfict led the Bengals with 127 tackles while recording one sack and recovering two fumbles. Last season, the Bengals were ranked in the middle of the pack in terms of rushing defense. If the Bengals want to take the next leap forward, their defense must drastically improve and Burfict will lead the defense. In the NFL, the linebacker position is one of the most important positions because the tight end is becoming increasingly used by offenses. Linebackers must defend the run while defending tight ends who are fast and strong. Once believed to be a first round pick because of his talent, Burfict became undrafted because he recorded a slow 40 time and had a lot of off the field issues. Vontaze has a big chip on his shoulder and wants to constantly improve to prove his doubters incorrect. If Burfict can be become a Pro Bowl caliber linebacker and a vocal leader, the Bengals defense will greatly improve in all aspects of the game.
All pics and stats from espn.com