Welcome to “This Is Totally Your Year,” our overly optimistic preview of the 2014-15 NFL season for all 32 teams. We’ve broken down why every team — yes, even your team (and yes, even your team, Rams fans) — will win it all this year. We’ll also give some reasons for pessimism and even estimate an actual season prediction. Next up: The Cincinnati Bengals.
How many years can a team be considered a “dark-horse candidate”? It seems like every year for the past three or four, the Bengals have been called a “sleeper team” that could “win” the “Super Bowl.” But every year, they do not.
Now, teams like the Bucs and Chargers are getting the dark horse moniker. The Bengals are just a team now. A team that, if everything clicks, should be a Super Bowl contender — not a dark horse, not a surprise, not a fluke. They’ve got the talent for it. They’ve got playoff experience. Now all they need to do is climb on top of their weak division and thrust.
They’ve got the best defense in the AFC North and one the best in the league.
Football Outsiders ranked the Bengals as the league’s fifth best defense last year — and they managed to dominate despite losing defensive end Geno Atkins to a torn ACL in November and Taylor Mays to a shoulder injury in October. The whole unit suffered a ton of injuries, and still preserved to allow the fifth-fewest points per game last year. With everyone back healthy this year — save for James Harrison, who retired — this defense could be the best in the NFL.
Also, Vontaze Burfict has a great name and is awesome.
Their loss of both coordinators won’t hurt as much as you think.
Usually, when a team loses both its offensive and defensive coordinators in the same offseason, the prevailing wisdom is “This team is fucked.” But while no one can truly replace Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer (the new head coaches of Washington and Minnesota, respectively), the Bengals promoted from within, putting Hue Jackson and Paul Guenther into the vacated roles. And as we saw from “Hard Knocks” last year, these guys are legit. They command the respect of their units. And they should provide continuity for a team that needs it.
Andy Dalton: Not quite the hot pile of garbage we think he is?
He can’t possibly be. Plus, the Bengals have surrounded him with enough weapons to make throwing 20 interceptions again… not quite as likely. Here’s the thing about Dalton: He’s not bad, just wildly inconsistent. If he can even out and keep his turnovers down, he should be fine. A.J. Green is one of the league’s best wide receivers; Giovanni Bernard should take the leap into top-back territory this year; Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert could be in for a Gronk/He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named type of season — they’re big and talented enough to be serious red-zone threats. Just stay on point, Andy, and let your receivers do the work.
Once again, the AFC North = ???
I’ve been saying this all week, but the AFC North is incredibly difficult to assess. Theoretically, the Bengals should be better than every team in this division. Both the Steelers and Ravens should be missing their top running backs for the first two games or so; the Browns are the Browns; Joe Flacco?; who catches the ball in Pittsburgh besides Antonio Brown?; etc. All it takes to win a Super Bowl these days is to get into the playoffs and get hot at the right time. Ask the Giants about that.
Reasons for pessimism: Andy Dalton. Also, as much as I like Marvin Lewis as a dude, it’s kind of his thing to coach a team to a decent record and then lose in the first round.
Actual season prediction: 9-7, second in the AFC North. Close, but no cigar.
Photo via Getty