The Cincinnati Bengals open the 2016 season with a very challenging eight-game stretch, the last of which coming vs Washington during a rare trip to London.
The Bengals will be the host team when they face the NFC East winners of 2016. The game takes place on October 30, 2016, at Wembley Stadium in London, with an early kickoff time of 9:30 a.m.
Team Blog: Hogs Haven
Division: NFC East
Coach: Jay Gruden
Unless you lived under a rock from 2011-13, you'd know Jay Gruden was once the offensive coordinator of the Bengals. The younger brother of former NFL coach Jon Gruden, Jay was largely responsible for helping mold and rebuild a decimated Bengals offense that was replacing some of the franchise's all-time leading passers (Carson Palmer) and receivers (Chad Johnson).
Oh, and Gruden had to do it with a rookie quarterback (Andy Dalton), receiver (A.J. Green) and the enigmatic Jerome Simpson and Jermaine Gresham. Yeah, that's not a challenge many were willing to take on, but the younger Gruden would and did an admirable job doing so.
Over the next three years, he built the Bengals offense up from one of the league's worst to a top-10 unit in his final year in Cincinnati. He also helped Dalton develop from a serviceable starter into a franchise quarterback.
Gruden even helped Green become one of the NFL's premier receivers, though the No. 4 overall pick was probably more bound to reach his potential than Dalton, a second-round pick.
Dalton may have not experienced the same success he has without Gruden mentoring him in his early years, so the Bengals will always be indebted to him so long as Dalton is their quarterback.
Recapping Last Season:
Washington was the NFL's "worst-to-first" turnaround team as they made one of the biggest bounce backs of any NFL team. After finishing last in the NFC East in 2014 with a 4-12 record, Washington did just enough to earn the NFC division crown with a 9-7 season.
With nine wins on the year, Washington pushed their all-time win total to 601, including postseason play. That made them the fifth NFL franchise to reach the 600-win mark (Bears, Packers, Giants and Steelers).
Things didn't start off so great though as Washington opened the year with a 2-4 record and was 5-7 entering the final four-game stretch. But after winning their final four games, Washington went from appearing to be out of the playoff mix to hosting a postseason game after winning the division. Alas, Washington would go one-and-done in the playoffs after losing to Green Bay in the Wild Card round.
Week 8: Sunday, October 30th, 9:30 a.m. ET
Wembley Stadium in London, England
Odds of a Bengals Victory:
60 percent. Oddsmakers have the Bengals as four-point favorites to win.
Very Early Outlook:
This is shaping up to be a game dictated by two high-powered offenses. You know the Bengals' group of explosive playmakers, most of which should put up good numbers against a so-so Washington defense.
The only real thing to speak of on their defense is a nice cornerback trio in DeAngelo Hall, Bashaud Breeland and Josh Norman. After the Carolina Panthers let Norman go this offseason, Washington was quick to sign him to a deal that makes him one of the league's highest-paid defenders, which is fair as he's become a star at corner.
Getting to see him go against Bengals star receiver A.J. Green is quietly shaping up to be one of the best player matchups of the season. Who gets the upper hand in this battle will go a long way in deciding the winner of this game.
A big reason why is the Bengals are thin at receiver with Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd being the projected starters behind Green. I would give Breeland and Hall the edge vs those two, so Norman vs Green becomes a more critical matchup for the Bengals in terms of the passing game.
As for the front seven, this should be an area the Bengals control with relative ease. Washington is severely lacking in this department, while the Bengals sport one of the NFL's best offensive lines and 1-2 punches at running back.
On the other side, Washington just doesn't have anyone that sacred you at linebacker or along the defensive line. They finished tied for 31st in average yards per rush allowed (4.8) in 2015. That really speaks to how often this unit was dominated in the trenches, something we should expect to see the Bengals doing plenty of.
As for the Washington offense, it's a much different story in terms of how deep they are all around, not to mention how explosive the passing game has become. Kirk Cousins has slowly developed into one of the NFL's better quarterbacks, though not one that's going to strike fear into a good defense like the Bengals sport. He's someone who put up big numbers vs average defenses in 2015 while struggling against better units, and you can bet the Bengals have one of the best defenses he'll see in 2016.
But containing Cousins and the passing game will be no easy task, especially now that first-round rookie Josh Doctson has joined the fold. He was easily one of, if not the best receiver prospect in this draft, so he should give this offense at least a slight upgrade.
Doctson joins an already-dangerous group that includes DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon and Jamison Crowder. That's already a solid trio of receivers, especially Jackson when he's healthy.
And that's not even accounting for Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Reed. Though he's not much of a blocker, Reed has become one of the best tight ends the NFL has to offer. Defending all of these weapons will prove to be challenging for any defense, including the Bengals.
On the ground, Washington has a solid offensive line led by star left tackle Trent Williams. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams recorded the sixth-best pass-blocking grade among NFL tackles last season. He's going to lock down whatever combination of Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap gets thrown at him throughout the game.
The good news is there isn't much to speak of along the rest of the line. Guards Shawn Lauvao and Brandon Scherff, along with right tackle Morgan Moses, were solid players who should be good again in 2016, but nothing that should scare the Bengals' deep front seven.
Oh, and Kory Lichtensteiger was one of the NFL's worst centers in 2016, so that bodes well for Geno Atkins and his mates wreaking havoc on the interior.
At running back, Matt Jones will likely be the feature back after flashes of greatness as a rookie. If he can overcome his fumbling issues, he should be a 1,000-yard runner for this offense.
As good as Washington is in the trenches, I still give the Bengals' front seven the edge here. Atkins should have his way in the middle, while Vontaze Burfict blows up a lot of plays as well.
On the other side, expect the Bengals offense to put up enough points that Cincinnati escapes with a one-touchdown win.
And, in case you were wondering, the Bengals already have shipped many belongings to London, including shirts, shorts, sweatpants, hats, towels, video projectors, batteries, power cords and more.
Bengals equipment heading to London for Oct. 30 game against the Redskins. pic.twitter.com/xniihGoowz— Emily Parker (@Emily_Parker) August 4, 2016