The second preview in our look at 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 2017 season features the Cincinnati Bengals, who are coming off a third-place finish in the AFC North last season.
A year after going 12-4, the Bengals finished the 2016 season with a disappointing 6-9-1 record, the first time they finished under .500 since going 4-12 in 2010. That poor showing didn’t prevent head coach Marvin Lewis from retaining his job, as he enters his 15th season leading the team despite not having success in the postseason. Without any free-agent signings in the offseason, the roster he coaches this season will look similar to what it was last season. Probably the most notable — and controversial — addition the Bengals made was their second-round draft pick, Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon, who had some legal troubles in college led likely led to his dropping out of the first round. They also went with offense with their first-round pick, selecting Washington WR John Ross.
QB Andy Dalton took every snap at the position last season, throwing for 4,206 yards, which was the second-highest total of his career, but a career-low 18 touchdowns. He also threw 8 interceptions, which was well below his career average of 13.5. His leading receiver was WR A.J. Green, who played only 10 games but led the team with 66 receptions and 964 yards, to go along with 4 touchdowns. WR Brandon LaFell added 64 catches for 862 yards and 6 scores. TE Tyler Eifert saw limited playing time as he dealt with an ankle injury that kept him out until Week 8. He ended up playing in eight games, catching 29 balls for 394 yards and 5 touchdowns. The ground game was dominated by RB Jeremy Hill, who ran the ball 222 times for 839 yards and 9 rushing touchdowns in 15 games, 13 starts. RB Giovani Bernard ran for 337 yards and 2 touchdowns on 91 carries in 10 games, including two starts. He added 39 receptions, including a receiving touchdown. Overall, the team was in the bottom 10 in the league, scoring 325 points, more than 200 points fewer than the league-leading Falcons. The defense, led by DT Geno Atkins and DE Carlos Dunlap, finished the season eighth in the league, allowing opponents to score 315 points.
If the Bengals want to have success this season, Dalton will have to throw for more touchdowns. If Green and Eifert — who each missed significant time last season –can stay on the field this season and if Ross can be NFL-ready in his rookie season, Dalton should have more success in the passing game. The team shouldn’t have issues with the running game with Hill and Bernard being one of the best running-back duos in the league. Adding Mixon at the position could help, as well, as a third back because he had first-round talent that was hindered by his infamous off-the-field actions. The core of the defense remains, with Atkins and Dunlap, so you wouldn’t expect to see much of a drop-off on that side of the ball in 2017.
The Bengals start the season with a tough schedule, hosting the Ravens in Week 1 then having a short week before getting the Texans at home for a Thursday nighter in Week 2. Week 3 sees them head to Green Bay for an interconference game with the Packers. With that three-week stretch, it’s not inconceivable that the Bengals could start the year 0-3. They get an early bye in Week 6, then head to Pittsburgh for Week 7. The Bengals visit the Broncos in Week 11 and host the Steelers in Week 13’s Monday night game. They finish the season at the Vikings in Week 15, home against the Lions in Week 16 and heading to the Ravens to end the season in Week 17. It looks like it’s going to be a tough slate of games for the Bengals, who I see being around a .500 team, which would be an improvement from last season but likely not good enough to make the playoffs. If the team does miss the playoffs for a second straight season, it might finally lead to the end of Lewis’ run as the Bengals’ head coach.