The Cincinnati Bengals will kick-off in two weeks against the Baltimore Ravens in their regular-season opener. For the second year in a row, Cincinnati is the favorite to win the AFC North.
Whether they do anything more than that is up to the offense, who's let them down in each of the past three postseason games. With Andy Dalton at the helm, they've scored 10,13 and 10 points in their losses.
Regardless, the Bengals are banking on Dalton and the offense being better in 2014, enough so that they could be in for a special season.
Sports Illustrated's Andy Benoit is doing his team-by-team preview for all 32 NFL clubs, and his Bengals preview echoed the above sentiments.
Same team, just different play-callers. More important than how the coaching transitions go is how the young core players—Dalton, Green, Bernard, Eifert, Zeitler, Burfict, Hunt, Iloka, Dennard—progress. The ceiling on the first guy listed here is something this team will have to overcome.
I will say that I think this team is going to have to rely more on Dalton and the offense in general more this year than they've had to in the past. Not only is longtime defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer gone, but so too is Michael Johnson, one of the best edge-setters in the NFL over the past two seasons.
While the defense will still be in the top 10-to-12 range, there will be more pressure on the offense this year to not necessarily score more, but be more efficient and eat up more clock.
Too often last year, the offense either went 3-and-out, or scored quickly through the air. Using the ground game more and eating up clock with Dalton throwing less interceptions will put less pressure on the defense.
That's the real key to this year's team.