There will always be limitations when making offseason predictions, and it's not necessarily the fault of the author. Who can prognosticate a fumble, an errant pass thanks to a passing windstorm, or a Leon Lett-level play on special teams? Saying that the Bengals will win 12 games and the Super Bowl makes as much sense as Cincinnati only winning four games and missing the playoffs.
A story via the National Football Post crushes the idea of Cincinnati reaching the postseason in 2015, writing that the Bengals "over-performed last season, which will most likely leave them on the outside of the playoffs looking in at season's end."
One of my favorite stats to look at (and really one of the most simple) is point differential. Team sports are full of nuance and strategy, but at the end of the day the objective is clear. You need to score more points than the other guy. And while a win is a win, clearly a team that wins by more points got to their win with a little more skill and a little less luck. The Detroit Lions won 11 games last season but based on their points scored and given up, their expected number of wins was 9.2. For the Bengals, they managed to go 10-5-1 while there point differential would have predicted them getting 8.6 wins. Neither of these differences between expectation and reality are super extreme, however, among teams that made the playoffs these were two of the biggest over-performers. The Arizona Cardinals were another one, but I already wrote about them, so I won’t beat that issue to death. But the good fortunes of the Lions and Bengals begged for a second look into the numbers.
- The return of Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert; two significant weapons (and starters) in Cincinnati's passing scheme. Both played in 2013 when Andy Dalton broke several franchise records.
- The health of A.J. Green, who missed parts or all of six games. A toe injury impacted his speed and a concussion wiped his contribution for the postseason.
- The return of Andre Smith, who missed the second half of the season last year and was previously ranked by Pro Football Focus as one of the league's better right tackles.
- The return of Michael Johnson, who spent last year in Tampa Bay, and was one of the anchors when Cincinnati's defensive line was great.
- Geno Atkins having an offseason to train rather than rehabilitate -- he spent most of the year learning how to trust his knee again.
- Dre Kirkpatrick (or Darqueze Dennard) is expected to become a significant contributor, replacing Terence Newman who is on the last leg of his career (we're calling this an upgrade).
- Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has a season under his belt and figures to further define his philosophy.