There are 31 teams in the NFL not named the Cincinnati Bengals and 18 of those teams are lucky enough to avoid having the opportunity to lose to the Bengals in the 2016 regular-season. Postseason heartbreak aside, the Bengals have been one of the most complete teams in the NFL over the past few years. Coming into this season, the team has some fresh faces and new looks that should be leaving the competition shaking in their cleats. Here are five reasons why anyone lining up opposite the orange and black in 2016 should be afraid.
1. Andy Dalton is the king of the jungle
Bengals fans (and most NFL fans) are all too familiar with what was known as the “Dalton Line” used to judge franchise quarterbacks. In 2015 Andy Dalton took the Dalton Line and completely obliterated it, churning out an MVP-worthy season before suffering a Week 14 thumb injury. The man is now unquestionably a legitimate franchise quarterback who is capable of not just managing games, but winning them. Dalton still has plenty of doubters, but those close to the Bengals can see how Dalton elevates the players around him and makes the team better. With 25 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions he turned in his most impressive (and efficient) campaign to date last year. In addition, while the thumb injury in 2015 was a disappointment, injury concerns aren’t commonly associated with Andy Dalton. Prior to the thumb injury Dalton started every game of his NFL career, giving him 81 out of a possible 85 career starts (including the post-season).
2. The roster is incredibly deep with talent
I think the most impressive part of the 2016 Bengals is the sheer amount of talent that is stored underneath the starting 22. From a bevy of young offensive lineman, a room full of first round corner talent, to multiple dynamic running backs, you could continue to go on at essentially every position of this roster. Depth, or a lack thereof, is an issue for most teams in the NFL, but because of a well drafted and retained roster, it’s less of an issue for the Cincinnati Bengals. As an example, losing your first round draft pick would be an absolute disaster for most teams. However, for the Bengals it’s more of an inconvenience. With William Jackson III recently suffering a torn pec, things might have seemed down for the Bengals. But in hindsight he was at best the Dime corner behind Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Darqueze Dennard.
NFL Network’s Chris Wesseling agrees with my confidence in the Bengals’ roster. “Nobody is talking about the ongoing disrespect for the Cincinnati Bengals, who will enter the season once again with the strongest roster in the AFC and should be considered prohibitive favorites in their division over a Steelers team that loses a difference-making talent seemingly every week,” said Wesseling.
3. The defensive line causes complete chaos
When it comes to defensive pressure schemes, there may not be a more simple explanation than the Bengals’ base defense. Send four rushers, generate pressure, produce sacks. In an NFL where special packages, blitz looks, and formations are prevalent, it doesn’t seem like a concept that should work. But as the Bengals defensive line has shown us for years, it does. The Bengals only brought a blitz on 19.2 percent of their 2015 snaps according to ESPN Stats & Information, but were able to generate 42 sacks (good for 10th in the NFL). This effort was led by Pro Bowlers Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins with 13.5 and 11.0 sacks respectively. Adding in additional veteran talent like Michael Johnson and Domata Peko as well as up and comers Andrew Billings and Will Clarke only makes the unit seem even more deadly. Every Sunday opposing offensive lines will be tested both on the edge and the interior.
4. The offensive weapons are everywhere
While I’ve already touched on the great depth of the Bengals, you can’t do the team justice without talking about just how good its starters are. Particularly on the offensive side. Dalton will be leading the team with key pieces like A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Tyler Boyd, and Ryan Hewitt (to name just a few) pulling their weight. The ability of all these players to line up in different looks on the field can cause nightmares. As a capable H-back, Hewitt can move fluidly from an in-line TE, to wing, to fullback on any given play. Boyd and Bernard are both capable of playing WR or HB in various locations, which is invaluable versatility. This leaves offensive coordinator Ken Zampese in a situation where he’s only limited by his creativity. There were times in 2015 where the Bengals offense looked downright unstoppable and there’s plenty of reason to suggest that will be the case again in 2016.
5. Karlos Dansby adds a new dynamic to the linebacker unit
The former Browns defensive star joins the Bengals for 2016 after signing a one year deal. In doing so, he brings a new element of speed and coverage ability that the Bengals have been lacking. While Dansby does turn 35 this November, he’s still quick and can provide a needed boost at the SAM position. In previous years the Bengals have struggled to find a SAM linebacker who could adequately cover tight ends, but Dansby excels in that area. With 69 career passes defended and 19 career interceptions (including 3 last year), Dansby is no stranger to reading the quarterback and making plays on the ball. That potential boon to the team’s turnover differential only makes an already stout defense that much more threatening.