The Bengals have eight regular season games remaining to right the ship and get back to their winning ways. At this point in the season, anything can happen. The Bengals can get back to winning and make a push to make it back to the playoffs for the sixth straight season. Or, they can keep up their losing record and earn themselves a top 10 draft pick in 2017. Monday night’s primetime showdown in New Jersey will go a long way in deciding if the Bengals are able to turn around their season. A win in the national spotlight against a team with a winning record will keep the Bengals relevant; a loss will shrink already diminishing hope that this season will be one to remember.
We gathered the Cincy Jungle staff to discuss our expectations for the rest of the year and how this season will end, whether it’s in Week 17 against the Ravens, in the playoffs, or maybe, somehow, with a Super Bowl appearance (and win).
If the Bengals’ coaching staff can get its players focused, this team remains a playoff caliber team. What we've witnessed from the defense in 2016 thus far, over eight games, is not going to get the job done. This team's window to win is now, the coaching staff is not getting the job done so far in 2016. Meanwhile, I remain in homer-mode praying for adjustments and for the Bengals to win out. Every week I seem to have to readjust those 2016 expectations, for now, crossing my fingers for 11-4-1.
I think there is a good chance this team ends up either 8-7-1 or 7-8-1, which is fitting given the way they've played thus far. I don't think that is enough for a playoff spot, but if they somehow manage to sneak in there I think they will win a game at least. Losing six straight years worth of playoff games would just be too hard to fathom.
As the resident optimist, I still think the Bengals have a solid chance of a playoff run. And though the team has struggled in the playoffs, I still they're capable of winning a game or two in January if Cincinnati can get its act together. With a talented roster and a wide-open AFC, I think the Bengals can -- and will -- make the playoffs. The AFC West is strong, but three of the four teams have fatal flaws, not to mention the division -- perhaps the most balanced, top-to-bottom in the NFL -- could beat itself up and perhaps give a 9-6-1 Bengals team a shot at a Wild Card berth.
While I'd like to say I see a playoff berth at the end of the tunnel I just can't bring myself to do it. This Bengals team is looking as good as last year offensively, but defensively I don't think the team can beat anybody of merit. The Bengals desperately need linebacker help (especially in the middle) and some youthful edge rushing talent to add depth. All the draft picks thrown into corners is all well and good, but they're injury prone and we aren't helping them at all by not getting a pass rush. It's time to invest high on an edge rusher and a linebacker in next year's draft because the old guard is really starting to fall off (Michael Johnson and Rey Maualuga). How good of a player the Bengals get depends on how poorly they play to finish the year. I don't see a top 10 pick in this team's future, but a 7-8-1 finish should land them around the top half of the first round. This team can win the easy games, but I don't think they have what it takes to knock off the real contenders.
I think the Bengals will take advantage of the next eight games and win the AFC North. Unfortunately, that is about the extent of it. I think they have the talent to win a playoff game, but it will all come down to the coaching as it has every year since 2011. Given Marvin Lewis' history with the team, I just don't see this being the year that they get that first playoff win. Hopefully Lewis ends up being one of the changes the Bengals make in the offseason. But, I definitely think the Bengals can and will take advantage of a weak schedule and a weak division to sneak up on the Steelers and win the AFC North crown. If that happens, I would feel fairly confident in predicting that they will end up as the No. 4 seed.
Every year, the media has asked Andy Dalton prior to the start of the season if that coming season will be the one where the Bengals win a playoff game. And every year, Dalton says something along the lines of, ‘well, first we need to get back to the playoffs; it’s not easy to do’. The Bengals have made it look easy in many of the last five years. This season, we’re seeing the difficulty in being a dominant team for so many consecutive years. I want to believe this Bengals team will turn it around, and I think the way the team plays on Monday night will be very indicative of how the rest of the season plays out. If the Bengals win, and beat a team with a winning record for the first time this season, my optimism will start to show again. Right now, this defense looks like too big of a liability to win games. I firmly believe the Bengals will not be a Wild Card team this year, it’s win the AFC North or play your last game on New Year’s day. For now, I’m going to say 8-7-1 and no playoffs is the most likely reality for the Bengals. Hey Bengals, please prove me wrong!