Head Coach: Marvin Lewis
2014 Record: 10-5-1
Postseason: 26-10 L to Indianapolis Colts in Wild Card game
Odds to win Division: +255
Odds to win Conference: +1500
Odds to win Super Bowl: +3500
Season Wins: Over 8 (-130); Under 8 (+110)
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The Cincinnati Bengals have fallen short in the wild card game for four straight seasons now and it’s tough to imagine this year the team makes any progress on that.
The Cincinnati Bengals have been consistently good, but this may be the end of the rope for its current nucleus if it doesn’t make major waves in the postseason. Eight starters are free agents after this season, two of whom are Pro-Bowlers in A.J. Green and Andrew Whitworth. The Bengals will have the cap flexibility to pursue another QB if it wants to get away from Andy Dalton.
Marvin Lewis is extended through 2016 but is winding down his NFL career entering his 13th season. Lewis doesn’t think this is this group’s last shot, but it is. He said, “I don’t think the window is closing.” That may be more true for the Bengals than him specifically, because the team does have some up and coming talent on the roster.
The Bengals ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing last season with 134.2 yards per game and the team was 7-0 in games which saw it run 30-plus running plays. Given that Dalton can be mediocre, the running is the perfect cure for the offense.
Dalton is still inconsistent for the most part and he’s not accurate with the long ball. He was poor in the clutch and Dalton is still working on doing a better job of getting rid of the ball under pressure/avoiding sacks. He throws a lot of bad passes while on the run and he doesn’t have an experienced veteran to step in when it gets ugly this year, with A.J. McCarron bringing plenty of talent but no experience.
It’s hard to say Dalton is much more than a middling talent as a QB, but having a strong RB corp will help bail him out a lot.
RB Jeremy Hill led the league in rushing over the final nine weeks of the season, when he amassed 103 yards per game. He’s a physical and strong back who can break a lot of tackles while also possessing breakaway speed. He had five games with 20 carries or more last season, so he could be a workhorse this year in his sophomore NFL season.
Giovani Bernard is one of the quickest backs in the AFC and is extremely effective even if he isn’t the most durable at his position. He averaged 1,119 yards from scrimmage in his two seasons as a Bengal.
Cedric Peerman and Rex Bulkhead are special teams players but may see some touches, particularly so if there are injuries this year. TE Ryan Hewitt played halfback last year and he may do so some this year, too, given that Cincy doesn’t use a traditional fullback in its offense.
Cincinnati’s receivers are pretty solid with Mohamed Sanu being the only WR to play every game last season while amassing 790 yards on 56 catches. He’s best as a slot receiver. A.J. Green was at one point one of the best in the NFL and he still had his fourth 1,000 yard season last year with 1,041 yards on 69 receptions with five TDs.
Jones missed all of last year. James Wright and Dane Sanzenbacher will see some time most likely. TE Tyler Eifert could be in for a big season as a good 6’6” athlete who has the hands to make catches in the red zone and in short pass routes.
The OL is an experienced and very good group. It allowed just 23 sacks last year, tying for third-best in the NFL. That’s good because Dalton needs the extra time and protection. Andrew Whitworth is one of the best LT in the NFL and can be an elite blocker for the running backs.
Clint Boling has been used at LG and RT, and Andre Smith’s injury threw the rotation askew last year. Center Russell Bodine was drafted in the fourth round last year and started every game. First round pick Cedric Ogbuehi is rehabbing from a torn ACL while second rounder Jake Fisher could bring some solid play at both G and both T spots. The team is said to be allowing Ogbuehi maximum time to recover with an eye towards his long-term future. He’s in no rush at all, in other words, given the gravity of the injury.
The defense will be more aggressive this season and DC Paul Guenther is known for blitzing a lot. The group only had 20 sacks last season and the LB positions have been weak for the past few years mostly due to injuries and a lack of depth. The Bengals did not defend the run well last year, ranking 20th in NFL clubs allowing 116.3 yards per game.
It also ranked 20th in pass yardage with opponents mustering 243 yards per game, but interestingly QBs posted a 75.8 passer rating against the Bengals which was the lowest notch of all NFL defenses. So, the potential for the pass coverage to be better is certainly already intact.
Part of the issue lies with a mediocre secondary. The lack of depth at LB is going to put the Bengals in a lot of nickel formations with Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick playing the outside and Leon Hall on the slot receiver. Kirkpatrick had his fifth year option picked up, but Hall and Jones are both free agents after this season. That means the Bengals may be focused on the turnover due. At S they have Reggie Nelson and George Iloka both in contract seasons, as well. Depth is going to be very problematic with a sixth rounder figuring to back up at safety in Derron Smith.
Adam Jones made the AP All-Pro team as a kick returner last season and led the NFL in kick return average at 38.3 yards per runback. He ranked second in punt returns (12.0) and has five punt returns for TD, ranking second among active players. P Kevin Huber made the Pro Bowl and averaged 46.8 yards per attempt and was fifth in net punting yardage (42.1). Mike Nugent was good for 26 of 33 FG and hit 15 straight field goals while converting 17 of his last 19.
The Bengals have very good special teams units.
The Bengals are good at making the playoffs but not good at getting anywhere once they’re there. Can they break that mold this year? Probably not, no. The team has had a rash of injuries and staying health is far from guaranteed given some of the guys are just injury prone.
The Bengals have not won a postseason contest in 25 seasons now and Dalton really doesn’t seem like the golden calf to lead them to the better fortunes. It stands to reason that if Dalton can’t get the Bengals into the second round of the playoffs, he will be replaced in short time.
Prediction: 7 wins