We all know about the disappointing results from the Cincinnati Bengals’ 2016 NFL season. Finishing 6-9-1 and in third place in the AFC North was not what players and fans were expecting after going 12-4 and winning the division in 2015. As a result, a lot of changes were made in the offseason in hopes of 2017 turning out much better. On that note, according to six-year veteran Dre Kirkpatrick, the Bengals returning to their winning ways is exactly what you should expect.
“I see us winning 11 games,” Kirkpatrick said on the Rich Eisen Show this week. “That puts us in the playoffs, and that’s as far as I can (say). I don’t want to jinx myself. I just want to get in the playoffs and be healthy.”
11 wins would be a huge improvement from the extremely disappointing results in 2016. It is understandable why some might be skeptical of the Bengals’ ability to produce like that in 2017, with so many new pieces filling roles on a team with such a poor performance the previous season, but Kirkpatrick thinks there is no reason to worry.
“It’s a lot of excitement,” Kirkpatrick said of the feeling in Cincinnati. “Excitement especially from we have everybody going into a healthy season right now. We don’t have none of our key guys down. Everybody’s picking up their roles and getting back into the swing of things.”
Granted, injury problems were huge in 2016. Key players like A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Giovani Bernard, William Jackson III, and Andrew Billings spent significant time (if not the full season) on the sidelines last year due to injury. In addition to an early season suspension for Vontaze Burfict, the amount of missing talent throughout last season was debilitating.
However, 2017 is a new season with new faces and a new structure. Quarterback Andy Dalton is expected to continue growing his role as a leader of the team, something Kirkpatrick thinks he is more than ready for.
“He’s definitely willing to put the team on his back,” Kirkpatrick said of Dalton. “Got a lot of enthusiasm behind coming to work every day, getting guys ready. Correcting the huddle when the huddle is not ready. I feel like he’s definitely taking control of the offense this year.”
Then again, Dalton isn’t the only one working to increase his role as a team leader in 2017. Kirkpatrick has been making an effort to use his personal experience to help rookie Joe Mixon adjust to life in the NFL. Although Kirkpatrick’s off-field issues were never scrutinized as heavily as Mixon’s, his arrest for marijuana possession before the 2012 NFL Draft, and subsequently having no notable off-field issues in the NFL, helps him understand a thing or two about moving on from a big mistake he made when he was young.
“I just tell him come ready to work,” Kirkpatrick said. “Don’t worry about it. When you are doing the right things, people tend to forget. As long as you continue to do the right things, everything will work itself out... I told him keep his head focused, watch his surroundings, and just come to work every day.”
Fortunately, Mixon doesn’t need to be told how to fit in with the team. H,e is doing that very well, enough to impress Kirkpatrick.
“He’s fitting in well,” Kirkpatrick said. “I love the nasty attitude, especially when he runs the ball at practice. You can just tell he has a chip on his shoulder.”
Considering all the new talent the Bengals will be fielding in 2017, it’s hard to judge how the team will truly do heading into the season. But Kirkpatrick is taking the more optimistic side, assuming the new talent works out and fits in right away, allowing the Bengals to return to the playoffs.
Hopefully he is right.