NFL Preview: Can Cincinnati Catch Pittsburgh in the NFC North?

After the 2015-2016 NFL Season, it sure appeared as if the Cincinnati Bengals were ready to become one of the elite teams in the NFL. The Bengals had shed their Bungles reputation by winning the AFC North. Cincy beat Seattle, Pittsburgh on the road, and Baltimore twice that season.

Cincinnati Bengals 2017 Preview

We probably should have known what was coming. Although Cincinnati ended the season at 12 and 4, they didn’t do enough in 2015-2016 to take Wildcard Weekend off. In fact, like it happens so often for the Bengals, they ended up playing their biggest rivals in the NFC North, the Pittsburgh Steelers during in the NFL Wildcard Playoffs that season.

Cincy went into the game without starting QB Andy Dalton. What happened? Cincinnati lost. At home. To the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ouch.

Expectations were high that the 2016-2017 Cincinnati Bengals could challenge Pittsburgh for supremacy in the AFC North. It didn’t pan out that way.  The Bengals, once again, became the Bungles. After going 12-4 in the 2015-2016 NFL Season, Cincinnati managed to win 6 games last season.

The Bungles…er, Bengals went 6-9-1. Does Cincinnati have any shot of making it the playoffs this season? What about winning the Super Bowl?

Keep reading for my Cincinnati Bengals 2017 preview!

Will the Bengals Offensive Line Protect Dalton?

That’s the biggest question going into the 2017-2018 NFL Regular Season. How is Cincinnati’s newly designed offensive line going to protect the durable Andy Dalton? Dalton missed a few games last season. But before that, he had been a Cal Ripken of sorts at the position.

A.J. Green is still one of the top wide receivers in the NFL. The Bengals drafted WR John Ross from Washington. Ross is blazingly fast…in a straight line. Then, they amazingly found RB Joe Mixon still on the board with the 16th pick in Round 2.  Ross and Mixon are fantastic skill players. Neither are going to help Dalton if he’s flat on his back during most plays. That could be the case in Cincinnati because the offensive line projects to be a mess.

Gone are pro bowl starting left tackle Andre Whitworth and utility OT Kevin Zeitler. Whitworth made the money run and went to the L.A. Rams. Zeitler signed a $60 million deal with the Cleveland Browns. Who is starting at left tackle for the Bengals this season? His name is Cedric Ogbuehi. Ogbuehi started a few games a right tackle for the Bengals last season. Then, Cincy benched him because he was ineffective. So, now, Ogbuehi gets the start at left tackle.

That’s not the only potential problem with the Bengals’ offensive line

Andre Smith resigned with the team. He must learn to play guard. Jake Fisher must prove that he can play right tackle for an entire season.

If I’m a Cincinnati fan, I’m not as worried about Fisher and Smith as I am about Ogbuehi. Smith is a veteran who should do just fine at any position along the offensive line save for left tackle. Fisher should have no trouble playing an entire 16-game season at a position he showed he’s comfortable playing. To me, it’s all about the left tackle position.

If a left tackle emerges for the Cincinnati Bengals, the offense should be ready to go. If one doesn’t it won’t matter if John Ross can fly, A.J. Green is still uncoverable, and Joe Mixon turns out to be Barry Sanders.

The Bengals offense won’t score many points.

Can the Cincinnati Bengals Defense Get to the Quarterback?

Based on stats, Cincinnati’s defense isn’t bad. The bend but don’t break philosophy works in Cincinnati where the Bengals allow an average of less than 20 points per game. In 2016, opponents averaged 350.8 yards per versus the Bengals. They only averaged 19.7 points per game versus the Bengals D.

I think Marvin Lewis can live with those stats. But, the Bengals must find a way to get to the quarterback more. For the fourth straight season, Cincinnati finished in the bottom half of the league in total number of sacks.

That’s an important stat to consider. The reason is because Cincinnati doesn’t necessarily have to become more aggressive. What it must do is become more aggressive when it needs to be more aggressive.

Think about New England in the Super Bowl. The Patriots play a bend but don’t break defense during the entire game. When it needed to become aggressive, when it needed to get sacks or tackles in the backfield, it became more aggressive. Atlanta had no answer in the 4th quarter for New England’s change of pace on defense.

That’s what Cincinnati must do. The signs are Cincinnati is going to look to do exactly that this season. After drafting Mixon in Round 2, the Bengals drafted a couple of defensive ends in Round 3 and Round 4. In Round 3, Cincy scooped up DE Jordan Willis, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year from Kansas State. In Round 4, Cincinnati drafted DE Carl Lawson from Auburn. Both could turn into solid NFL pros.

2017-2018 Cincinnati Bengals Schedule

Last season, the Bengals had no shot. The schedule was too daunting. In the first 6 weeks of the season, Cincinnati was at the New York Jets, a game they won, at Pittsburgh, a game they lost, versus Denver, another game they lost, versus Miami, a game they won, then back-to-back games on the road, both losses, versus the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots.

Cincinnati’s schedule this season isn’t nearly as difficult to manage.  The Bengals start this season with back-to-back home games. The first is versus the Baltimore Ravens.  The second is against the Houston Texans. Cincinnati should win both.

The Bengals are at Green Bay, at Cleveland, and then versus Buffalo at home before their bye week. If Cincinnati beats Cleveland, and loses to Green Bay and Buffalo, all possibilities, they go into their bye week with a 3 and 2 record.

After the bye, things get much tougher for Cincy. Cincinnati must go to Pittsburgh. They return home to take on Indianapolis. Then comes the 3-game road gauntlet that could end Cincinnati’s season. The Bengals are at Jacksonville, at Tennessee, and at Denver from Nov. 5 through Nov. 19.

Cincinnati could either win all 3 games or lose all 3 games. It depends. That’s how difficult the 3-game road gauntlet is. I believe Cincinnati loses 2 out of the 3 games. One of the for sure losses should be on the road against Denver.

That’s 4 losses:  Green Bay, Buffalo, Jacksonville or Tennessee, and Denver. I believe Pitt beats the Bengals in Cincinnati on Dec. 4. I also believe Minnesota beats Cincinnati in a Bengals’ road game on Dec. 17.

Cincinnati’s seventh loss should occur to either Detroit on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, or to Baltimore in a road game on Dec. 31.

Cincinnati Bengals Super Bowl 52 Odds

The current odds on the Cincinnati Bengals to win Super Bowl 52 are +50000. Cincy is a 50 to 1 longshot to win the Super Bowl. Based on last season’s record of 6-9-1, the odds make sense. I’m not ready to say Cincinnati is either an underlay bet at those odds, or an overlay bet at those odds.

Value regarding the Bengals’ chances of winning the Super Bowl are almost wholly dependent on how Cincy’s offensive line comes together. If the offensive line comes together well, if Cedric Ogbuehi turns into a terrific left tackle, 50 to 1 presents overlay odds.

But, if Ogbuehi struggles at left tackle (the more likely scenario), Cincinnati’s odds should be closer to 70 to 1 to win Super Bowl 52. I’m not sure Ogbuehi gets the job done. I like that Cincinnati has surrounded Dalton with exceptional weapons.

Former Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon could turn into one of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL. But, I don’t see much use with drafting players like Mixon and Ross if the O-line doesn’t come together.

I think the Bengals are a pass to win Super Bowl 52 at 50 to 1 odds.

What do you think?

Written by D.S. Williamson