What to expect:
Before last season, the Bengals were no stranger to the playoffs. The team strung together 5 strait playoff appearances from 2011-2015. While they failed to win a single game in the postseason during that streak, Cincinnati established themselves as a safe bet to compete in the AFC North each year. However, the club dropped off in 2016 with a disappointing 6-9-1 record. It will be interesting to see if Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis can turn things around after some changes were made in the offseason.
The Bengals struggled last season on the offensive side of the ball, so they decided to add a couple of playmakers early in the 2017 NFL Draft. WR John Ross and RB Joe Mixon were their top two picks, and both are expected to contribute right away. Adding these two weapons to an offense that ranked 24th in the league last season in points per game makes a lot of sense. However, this offense might continue to struggle if the offensive line group isn’t up to par. Despite adding veteran Andre Smith, the Bengals lost key starters Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth in free agency. Andy Dalton may have new talents around him, but if he lacks the proper protection, it will be hard for this team to find its scoring groove.
Schedule walk through:
Week 1: Vs. Ravens
Luckily for the Bengals, they face off against a Ravens team with a lot of moving pieces in the secondary to start the season. Andy Dalton should be able to establish chemistry early on with his young skill players to put up impressive stats and a well-deserved win.
Win 27-20 Record: 1-0
Week 2: Vs. Texans
Coming off a quick turnaround, the Bengals will feel a bit sore in this Thursday Night matchup after facing a physical Baltimore squad. The Texans have a tough unit as well, which will prove a bit too much to handle for Andy Dalton and company.
Loss 21-16 Record: 1-1
Week 3: At Packers
Lambeau Field isn’t the place you want to travel to for your first road game of the season, but the Bengals pulled the short straw in this one. Even with the extra rest, beating Aaron Rodgers in his own stadium seems like a bit too much to handle.
Loss 34-14 Record: 1-2
Week 4: At Browns
Now this is a road game more manageable. It’s only week 4, so there is little chance a starting quarterback has asserted himself as “the man” in Cleveland only a month into the schedule. Expect the better orange team in Ohio to win, but rivalry games do tend to keep it close.
Win 28-24 Record: 2-2
Week 5: Vs. Bills
Both teams are capable of winning this game, so whichever star (A.J. Green, LeSean McCoy) shows up first will determine the outcome. I’m an old school football fan myself, so I’ll bet on the ground attack and Shady’s sweet moves.
Loss 23-22 Record: 2-3
Week 6: BYE
This break will come in handy for a big game ahead.
Week 7: At Steelers
The Steelers will be favored in this one, but that means nothing when these two hated foes knock heads with one another. A week of preparation and rest will prove wonders as the Bengals pull off a divisional upset.
Win 27-21 Record: 3-3
Week 8: Vs. Colts
A lot of confidence will be brought from last week’s victory onto their home turf. Cincinnati will take advantage of a rebuilding defense and score more than enough in this Midwest showdown. Joe Mixon might take over as the starting RB after a strong performance here as well.
Win 42-31 Record: 4-3
Week 9: At Jaguars
I’d be careful if I was the Bengals this week. Their win streak could come to a screeching halt if they come into Jacksonville overconfident. This has “TRAP” written all over it, but I’ll trust Marvin Lewis to have his men focused and ready. Just in case, this one gets taken into OT.
Win 17-14 OT Record: 5-3
Week 10: At Titans
Whether or not they defeat the Jaguars, this is where the Bengals’ season will meet its maker. The Titans are hungry to prove themselves to the league, and will simply perform better in every aspect of the game. As long as Marcus Mariota’s leg is good to go, the Bengals will enter their roughest patch in the schedule.
Loss 31-10 Record: 5-4
Week 11: At Broncos
Unfortunately, the Bengals will be unable to catch their breath as they travel to Mile High Stadium after their last beat down. The Broncos defense is still a force to be reckoned with, and will punish the Bengals’ questionable offensive line.
Loss 20-3 Record: 5-5
Week 12: Vs. Browns
This is where you’d think Cincinnati would be able to bounce back after a couple of losses. Unlike week 4, however, the Browns could have more stability at the quarterback position come the second half of the season. Hugh Jackson will want to beat his former team at some point, and this feels like the perfect time to do so.
Loss 24-21 Record: 5-6
Week 13: Vs. Steelers
To cap off the losing streak, the Bengals fall at home to a hot Steelers team making its postseason run. Big Ben has found a lot of success at Paul Brown Stadium, especially with WR Martavis Bryant, who has returned from his yearlong suspension.
Loss 30-24 Record: 5-7
Week 14: Vs. Bears
After losing four straight games, the Bengals come across a team faring even worse than they are. To save Marvin Lewis’ job, Cincinnati pulls it together and finally wins for a change. The stage is set for someone new on the offensive line to emerge and earn a starting job.
Win 27-19 Record: 6-7
Week 15: At Vikings
Most people forget how dominant the Vikings’ defense was the beginning of last season. They looked like real Super Bowl contenders before falling off the map and allowing Green Bay to steal the division. Having this matchup week 15 gives the Bengals an advantage as the Vikings’ defense once again cools off in December.
Win 18-6 Record: 7-7
Week 16: Vs. Lions
Remember when the Bengals had a winning record? It’s been a while, but as of now they are still in the wild card hunt. That should be motivation enough to get over the .500 mark and beat a pass happy Lions team at home.
Win 26-24 Record: 8-7
Week 17: At. Ravens
Despite winning last week, the Bengals get eliminated from playoff contention due to the outcomes of other games. With nothing but pride on the line, they walk into enemy territory and face a Ravens team looking to avenge their week 1 defeat. The home team gets the edge here and Cincinnati ends their season on a sour note.
Loss 24-16 Record: 8-8
Final Record: 8-8
Player Predictions: *Projected healthy for a 16 game season
QB Andy Dalton: 4400 passing yards, 23 TD’s, 10 INT’s
WR A.J. Green: 80 receptions, 1200 yards, 9 TD’s
LB Vontaze Burfict: 100 tackles, 5 sacks, 4 INT’s
DE Carlos Dunlap: 60 tackles, 10 sacks, 1 INT
William Jackson III (Injured all 2016): 50 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 INT’s
While most Bengals fans will be disappointed with an 8-8 record and second year missing the playoffs, these predictions are still an improvement on a 6-9-1 season a year ago. Looking past the average win-loss column, there is still a lot of upside to be excited about. A year of NFL experience will benefit young stars such as John Ross as this team progresses. The 2018-2019 football season would be a reasonable benchmark for Cincinnati to reach the postseason and get head coach Marvin Lewis that elusive playoff win. Until then, NFL fans in Ohio must continue their long-standing traditions of patience and perseverance.