It’s time for the second day of our previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so), followed by a season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2016 season. Today, we preview the Cincinnati Bengals, who are coming off a first-place finish in the AFC North last season.
In 2015, the Bengals made their fifth straight playoff appearance and made another early exit with a loss in the Wild Card Round, which is the norm for the team under head coach Marvin Lewis, who has yet to lead the team to a playoff win in 13 seasons as the head coach. The team finished 12-4 despite starting QB Andy Dalton missing three games. They’re in a tough division, but the core of the offense returns from last season so the team should have another winning regular season — the question is if the Bengals make the playoffs, can they finally win a game?
Dalton had a better season in 2015 than he did in 2014 despite his season ending three weeks early last season after breaking the thumb on his throwing hand in Week 14. In his 13 starts, Dalton threw for 3,250 yards and 25 touchdowns, with just 7 interceptions, giving him the lowest interception percentage of his career. Having WR A.J. Green leading your receiving core certainly helps a quarterback put up big numbers. Green had 86 receptions last season for 1,297 yards and 10 touchdowns. TE Tyler Eifert had a breakout season, finding the end zone 13 times on 52 receptions in 13 games. RB Jeremy Hill was the team’s leading rusher, carrying the ball 223 times for 794 yards and 11 touchdowns, with backup RB Giovani Bernard adding 730 yards and 2 touchdowns with 154 rushes. The Bengals had a good defense last season, allowing opponents to score the second-fewest points in the league while snagging the third-most interceptions, with 21.
Eifert’s health could be a question mark early in the season as he recovers from ankle surgery that he underwent in May, with an expected recovery time of about three months. He is expected to be ready in time for the season, but any setbacks could set that timetable back. Assuming he’s ready to start the season, Dalton will have his two best targets in Eifert and Green. Barring injury, Dalton should be able to continue the success he was having before his season ended early in 2015. With the addition of first-round draft pick CB William Jackson III, the team added some depth to the defense that the Bengals hope will have continued success this season.
The Bengals’ schedule opens up with back-to-back road games against the Jets and Steelers before their home opener against the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos, which isn’t an easy way to open the season, though the Steelers will be without the suspended Le’Veon Bell. In Weeks 5 and 6, the Bengals visit the Cowboys and Patriots, respectively. After a Week 9 bye, the Bengals have a road game at the Giants. In Week 16, the Bengals play a Christmas Eve night game at the Texans before ending the 2016 campaign ends at home against the Ravens. It’s a tough slate of games for the Bengals but I’m projecting them to repeat their 12-win season from a year ago, which should be good for another playoff appearance — the question is can Lewis finally lead them to a win in the postseason?