Schedule: LAC, @CLE, @PHI, JAX, @BAL, @IND, CLE, TEN, BYE, @PIT, @WAS, NYG, @MIA, DAL, PIT, @HOU, BAL
Additions: DL D.J. Reader (FA),
CB Trae Waynes (FA), S Vonn Bell (FA), OL Xavier Su’a-Filo (FA), CB Mackensie Alexander (FA), DL Mike Daniels (FA), LB Josh Bynes (FA), QB Joe Burrow (Draft), WR Tee Higgins (Draft), LB Logan Wilson (Draft)
Losses: QB Andy Dalton (FA), TE Tyler Eifert (FA), OL John Miller (FA), DL Andrew Billings (FA), S Clayton Fejedelem (FA), LB Nick Vigil (FA), DB Darqueze Dennard (FA), CB Trae Waynes (Injury)
I’m going to say this a lot during this series: I worry about rookies this season given the crazy, shortened offseason. No position will be hit harder than quarterback, so a guy who might normally be great, like Joe Burrow, could struggle more than expected. Given how bad they were last year, Cincinnati likely needs him to be special to see marked improvement.
Young coaches could find themselves at a disadvantage as well. Besides, I didn’t like the Zac Taylor hiring at the time and while it’s too early to make any final judgements, he’s done nothing to change my mind. Great coaches get the most out of their teams, even when the talent is lacking. Whether you like him or not, Taylor isn’t in that category. Cincinnati will likely remain a bottom-tier team given their roster uncertainty.
It wasn’t Dolphins-level, but the Bengals did make some upgrades this summer. D.J. Reader is one of the best nose tackles in the league and should immediately shore up last year’s worst run defense. I don’t imagine it getting too much better, though, given Cincinnati’s underwhelming linebackers. With a hybrid scheme, the Bengals will shuffle between two and three non-edge linebackers in base looks. Second-year man Germaine Pratt will take one of the spots, with rookie Logan Wilson and/or journeyman Josh Bynes alongside him. The former two are too young to put much faith in while Bynes also lacks long-term starting experience despite this being his 10th season in the league.
Stopping the run wasn’t the only issue for Cincinnati. With a poor pass rush, they weren’t much better when offenses aired it out. The linebackers won’t help here either, with Wilson, especially, lacking coverage experience.
While known as a run stopper, Reader’s presence could benefit the rest of the line. When in 3-4, the former Texan will likely be bookended by Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins. Dunlap offers a consistent 7+ sacks a year while Atkins is a former superstar coming off after a down year.
On the edge, Cincinnati has Sam Hubbard (8.5 sacks) and Carl Lawson (5.0). Despite the low total last season, Lawson has shown glimpses of being a special pass-rusher in the past. He and Hubbard should be a good pair going forward. Even with a starring role in the ugly stats, I actually like this d-line/edge rotation. The team clearly agrees, as besides Reader, they’re largely running it back.
Most of their money went to improving the secondary. Unfortunately, two of their most expensive investments won’t provide much of an immediate return. Trae Waynes, signed from the Vikings after years as their number two corner, could miss the season with a torn pec. Another Minnesota defector, Mackensie Alexander, has a cloudy outlook after some personal and legal issues arised. That leaves former Saints safety Vonn Bell as the only member of this free agent crop left standing. Without two guys expected to play big roles, it’ll be tough for this secondary to improve much.
Unlike the Jets and Dolphins, the Bengals chose to retain most of their awful offensive line. 2019 first-rounder Jonah Williams will start at left tackle after missing all of last season. Right guard will be manned by Xavier Su’a-Filo, a former Cowboy with starting experience. Outside of that, Cincinnati is relying on internal development. I don’t know how I feel about keeping three of last year’s starters instead of looking for outside upgrades. Left guard Michael Jordan looked nothing like His Airness as a rookie, but has reportedly shown out in camp. Subpar veterans Trey Hopkins and Bobby Hart are the other two returnees. Here’s to hoping they don’t get Burrow and Joe Mixon killed.
Speaking of Mixon, he leads an elite group of weapons. A.J. Green’s health is worth monitoring, but the Bengals have one of the deepest receiver rooms in the league. Along with the shifty Mixon, they will make Burrow’s life much easier. At tight end, the duo of C.J. Uzomah and Drew Sample has a solid mix of receiving ability and blocking prowess. The skill positions are the best thing on this team, by far.
I have Cincinnati adding a couple wins from last year’s total. That’s still only four, though, and another bottom-feeding season would make Taylor’s seat a lot warmer. They could definitely outperform this prediction, but it’s hard to predict any more given the roster and coaching staff. With that being said, Burrow could turn this franchise around within a couple of years. He has the potential to be a guy who elevates everyone around him.
What’s your record prediction for the Bengals? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.