2014 NFL Preview: Cincinnati Bengals

2014 NFL Preview: Cincinnati Bengals

The 2013 Cincinnati Bengals won their third division title since 2005. That’s the good news. The bad news is the Bengals last playoff win was in 1990. From a talent perspective, the Bengals are as loaded as any team in the NFL. Elite players such as A.J. Green, Geno Atkins, and Vontaze Burfict, and budding stars like Giovani Bernard and Carlos Dunlap are proof that the Bengals’ front office knows how to draft and develop home-grown talent. The huge question yet to be answered is under center; Andy Dalton has increased his yardage and touchdown totals in each of his three seasons, but 7 interceptions and an 0-3 playoff record have left doubts in the minds of fans and pundits. Regardless of Dalton’s flaws, the Bengals are an ascending team. Here’s a preview of their 2014 prospects.

Outlook: Despite a couple of key offseason departures, Cincinnati has the fewest holes of any team in the AFC North. Green is the division’s most explosive offensive weapon, and stud defensive tackle Geno Atkins is back after missing half of 2013 with a torn ACL. If Gio Bernard is given a larger workload and Dalton finds consistency from week-to-week, the offense will be Top 5. The secondary is somewhat of a concern, though. Aging vets Terence Newman and Pacman Jones are atop the depth chart, while Leon Hall and his two repaired Achilles tendons is the most experienced reserve.

New arrivals: The front office was quiet in free agency, choosing instead to conserve money for impending contract extensions for Green and Dalton. Rookies Darqueze Dennard, Jeremy Hill, and Will Clarke should all receive meaningful playing time. Dennard has the man-to-man cover skills to make an immediate impact if he picks up the defense quickly. Hill is a power runner who enters a crowded backfield picture that includes Bernard and veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

Wave goodbye: Michael Johnson posted one great season in five years. Remove his 11.5 sacks in 2012 and he was average at best, which is why the Bengals allowed him to ink a $44-year contract with the Bucs. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden are now head coaches in Minnesota and Washington, respectively. Zimmer will be missed the most, but he was long overdue for a head coaching job. Paul Guenther has big shoes to fill.

Over/Under wins – 9: The schedule is brutal: Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, Indy, Denver, New England, and four games against Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Needless to say, the margin of error is miniscule. Andy Dalton can ill afford any of his ghastly efforts if the Bengals hope to repeat as division champs and advance to the playoffs for a fourth straight season. Dennard will solidify the secondary and the Dalton/Green/Bernard trio will shine on offense. Ten or 11 wins, at least.

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