We continue our previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so), with an overall season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2015 season. Here, we preview the Cincinnati Bengals, coming off a second-place finish in the AFC North last season.
The Bengals are coming off of four straight playoff appearances, but they have lost in the Wild Card game all four years. It would seem that QB Andy Dalton just doesn’t have what it takes to get the team to the next level, especially when it really counts — in the postseason. Getting the team to the next level also seems to be a problem for head coach Marvin Lewis, who is entering his 13th season in the position. The team’s lack of postseason success likely has him on the hot seat, and it could be Lewis’ final season in Cincinnati if he can’t lead the team to a deep playoff run.
After having the best season of his career in 2013, Dalton regressed and had his worst season last year. His 3,398 passing yards tied his career low — from his rookie season in 2011 — and his 19 passing touchdowns were the fewest of his career, and down from a career-high 33 just a year earlier. The running game — led by RBs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard — picked up the slack on offense, finishing with the sixth-most rushing yards in the league and second-most rushing touchdowns. WR A.J. Green led the team in receiving with 1,041 yards and six touchdowns in 13 games. The defense was a little better than average last season, finishing with the league’s 12th-best defense.
Obviously, Dalton will have to improve upon his career-worst year if the Bengals want to compete this season. It’s nice to have a good running game, but a poor passing offense is usually hard for a team to overcome. The offense could get a boost with players returning from injuries, including TE Tyler Eifert, who was limited to just one game in 2014. If he proves to be healthy, it’ll provide an additional offense for Dalton in the passing game.
The Bengals are looking at a tough schedule this season. In addition to their six divisional matchups, the Bengals face home games against playoff contenders in the Seahawks and Texans, along with a road tilt against the Arizona Cardinals. The last quarter of the Bengals schedule looks to be its toughest; They face primetime games at San Francisco and Denver in weeks 15 and 16, respectively, bookended by home contests with the Steelers and Ravens. With that schedule and questions surrounding Dalton after his poor season in 2014, I think the Bengals will have a hard time matching their 10-5-1 record from last season and will likely miss the playoffs for the first time since 2010.