The Comeback is previewing all 32 NFL teams from worst to first leading up to the start of the 2017 regular season on Sept. 7. Coming in at No. 27 on our rankings are the baffling Cincinnati Bengals.
2016 in a nutshell: Quarterback Andy Dalton was solid despite not having superstar wide receiver A.J. Green for nearly half the season, but that wasn’t enough to cure a sputtering running game and a defense that wasn’t what it used to be. Cincinnati was still solid on that side of the ball, but lacked bite with just 20 takeaways and 33 sacks. Put it all together and you had their first losing season (6-9-1) since 2010.
What’s different: Almost nothing, which is sort of the problem.
Why they could be awesome: Dalton and Green are still one of the best young quarterback-wide receiver duos in the league and the D still has plenty of talent.
Why they could suck: Despite having money to spend they inexplicably let strong starting offensive linemen Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler walk in free agency. A team coming off a losing season essentially slept through free agency, and rookie first-round wide receiver John Ross probably can’t make up for that.
Major additions: Ross, second-round running back Joe Mixon and veterans Kevin Minter at linebacker and Andre Smith at tackle/guard.
Major losses: Whitworth had been to the last two Pro Bowls and Zeitler is one of the best young guards in the game. I’m still baffled by the fact they didn’t re-sign either. They also lost Margus Hunt, Karlos Dansby and Domata Peko on defense and Rex Burkhead on offense.
Breakout watch: With Whitworth gone and Smith likely to play inside, they’ll be relying heavily on their top two picks from the 2015 draft, Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, at both offensive tackle positions. Both have really struggled thus far, but higher onuses in Year 3 could make things interesting.
Position to watch: How ’bout head coach? The Bengals have won zero playoff games in Marvin Lewis’ 14 seasons on the job. They’ve posted winning records in only seven of those seasons and have won the division in four of them. They’re 0-7 in wild-card games under Lewis’ tutelage, with four of those losses coming at home. And the dude is the second-longest tenured head coach in the NFL. Could this finally be a make-or-break season?
Prediction: I just don’t see enough support for Dalton and Green, even if Ross and Mixon contribute right away. They arguably got worse on that side of the ball and the D doesn’t have a lot going on outside of Geno Atkins, Vontaze Burfict and Carlos Dunlap. This is a mediocre team.
6-10, third place in the AFC North