Brand spanking new Bengals football is officially upon us, so excuse me while I get something off of my chest:
HEAR THAT MOTHER-EFFING BENGAL GROWLIN’, MEEEAN AND ANG-ER-YYYY
The Bengals have hardly been mean and or angry in recent years. In fact, some would say they’ve been more nice and complacent than anything.
But those days are over... maybe?
It’s tough to go from being a bad team to being a good team overnight; and while injuries and bad luck have been featured contributors to the Bengals’ recent failures, they were still, in fact, a bad football team. There’s no sense ignoring that, but there’s at least some sense in thinking that they’re better now compared to how they were 365 days ago.
How much better are they, though? 74% of the current 53-man roster features players from last year’s squad and 86% of the two starting lineups can say the same. Just three of the 14 new players (eight of whom are rookies and two were signed this week) will be trotting out onto the field first and playing the majority of the snaps. One of them is a rookie who went undrafted!
The real turnover that went down in Cincinnati involved the coaching staff. 71% of the 24 coaches (the biggest staff in team history) are spending their first year with the orange and black, led by new head coach Zac Taylor. The coach with the most prominent position who was here last year is special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons, and based on how the initial 53-man roster was constructed, it seems that Simmons has slightly less influence on how the roster is put together.
This is truly Taylor’s team now, and the coaching turnover he orchestrated is going to be primary reason why this Bengals team exceeds or confirms the low expectations bestowed upon them.
How low are the expectations? Most online sportsbooks have the over-under for the Bengals at 5.5 wins. Coming off of a 6-win season that featured a 2-5 record in close games and a multitude of key injuries, this seems to be a pretty low benchmark.
What can we say? Bad football teams don’t get very much respect.
There’s a tug of war featuring equal parts optimism and skepticism when it comes to the Bengals getting to at least six wins this season. For ever pro, there is a con ready to counter it, so it’s difficult to see the year resulting in much lower or higher than six wins.
One positive we feel pretty comfortable in is the difficulty of the schedule: it doesn’t appear to be too tough. Going week-by-week, this looks to be more of a roller coaster ride than we thought.
Week 1: Bengals at Seahawks
The NFL gods think they’re so funny sometimes. While left tackle Cordy Glenn is working back from a concussion, the Seahawks somehow fleeced edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney away from the Texans.
Playing in Seattle, against quarterback Russell Wilson, this was already a probable loss for the good guys. The Seahawks have won their last 10 home openers, and Clowney’s instant impact may make it an ugly affair.
RESULT: L (0-1)
Week 2: Bengals vs. 49ers
As a fan of football, who wasn’t a Bengals fan or alive in the 80s, I’m excited about the 49ers this year. Head coach Kyle Shanahan is one of the few offensive geniuses worthy of that specific acclaim. On defense, second-overall pick Nick Bosa may finally give them a pass-rushing presence on the edge to go with their monsters inside.
Despite all of that, this is a winnable game for Cincinnati at home, and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who had an up-and-down preseason back from injury, may need more than two weeks to get properly acclimated. Chalk this one up as a win that ends up being easier than expected going in.
RESULT: W (1-1)
Week 3: Bengals at Bills
The folks in northwestern New York seem pretty confident in the football team they’re assembling. There does seem to be a successfully established culture to go with an improved offensive line and an already stout defense.
The only thing holding them back from any sense of consistency is quarterback Josh Allen. Luckily for the Bills, the things Allen does well right now can work against the right defenses. This may be a wacky game that falls in favor of the home team.
RESULT: L (1-2)
Week 4: Bengals at Steelers
I hate this rivalry, if it can be even classified as one anymore. This biannual matchup is just a bloodbath that always ends the same way. The hate that both teams express for each other only increases the amount of injuries that come out of this “game”.
The message Taylor needs to express to his team is simple: stop trying to be the bully and just be the better team. At this juncture, likely still without A.J. Green, they won’t be the better team... yet.
RESULT: L (1-3)
Week 5: Bengals vs. Cardinals
Quarterback Kyler Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsbury have a chance to set the pro football world on fire. If they can do so without a stable offensive line and a vulnerable defense, that would be even more impressive.
This game should have plenty of fireworks, but may end up being uglier than we think. Murray’s exciting but expecting much from rookie quarterbacks is typically bad business. Gotta win the one game when they’re wearing orange jerseys.
RESULT: W (2-3)
Week 6: Bengals at Ravens
To the other 31 fanbases outside of Baltimore, the Lamar Jackson offense may not inspire much fear. I’m not sure why the Bengals’ faithful feel this way, because it sure as Hell picked apart their defense last year just after it was conceived.
Jackson’s progression as a passer is the next step to that offense’s evolution, and it could be the counterweight to the defense’s plausible regression. By mid-October, we could start seeing a dangerous threat emerging in the purple and black. On the road, this will be as tough as it always is against those pesky Ravens.
RESULT: L (2-4)
Week 7: Bengals vs. Jaguars
By this point, Green will have returned to the field and this will be labeled the “revenge game” for him. The last time the Pro Bowl receiver faced off against Jacksonville, he finished with six yards, one reception, and one ejection.
Green vs. Jalen Ramsey two years after their on-field scrap will be must-see T.V. and you know Green will do everything to put up a better performance, but this the quintessential trap game. The Jaguars’ defense should regress back towards their 2017 level after experiencing a drop off last season. On offense, Nick Foles shouldn’t scare anyone, but he is indeed and upgrade from Blake Bortles. He can catch the Bengals off guard when they have a monumental game on the horizon.
RESULT: L (2-5)
Week 8: Bengals at Rams
Taylor faces off with the guy that got him a head coaching gig (just kidding... mostly). Sean McVay will know the ins and outs of Taylor’s offense by this point and, plain and simple, the Rams are a better team in every phase of the game. Perhaps there’s an exception at edge rusher, but having Aaron Donald inside can make up for that.
Apologies to the folks that make up Bengals UK, but this will be an uphill battles every step of the way.
RESULT: L (2-6)
Week 9: BYE
We take no Ls this week, baby.
MIDSEASON RECORD: 2-6
Week 10: Bengals vs. Ravens
What’s this? A win coming off of the bye week?
My sentiments towards the Ravens aren’t any different four weeks later, but splitting with the Ravens is an annual tradition until proven otherwise. Something’s gotta spark a potential playoff run.
RESULT: W (3-6)
Week 11: Bengals at Raiders
Now we’re streaking! The Raiders are a team that could surprise a few teams on their schedule, and the Bengals are in that group. The thing is, their quarterback Derek Carr is more talented than Andy Dalton but simply doesn’t perform like it most of the time. Maybe that changes with Antonio Brown now in the mix, but counting on Brown on a weekly basis is something I would not want to rely on.
Did we mention the Bengals get to play against Vontaze Burfict? This is of course assuming Burfict will even be healthy this late into the season.
The Bengals’ last trip into the blackhole is successful, but this may be the most surprising close game of the season.
RESULT: W (4-6)
Week 12: Bengals vs. Steelers
From facing Brown to Brown’s former team for the second time of the year. By this point, we should have a great understanding of how their offense operates with JuJu Smith-Schuster leading the charge. I know he knocked out Burfict when most of us still liked the guy, but the kid can flat out ball. I think they’ll be fine.
Splitting with the Steelers would be a major accomplishment for Taylor in year one. But it’s something I need to see in order to believe.
RESULT: L (4-7)
Week 13: Bengals vs. Jets
I’ll say it: I think the Jets make a playoff push this season. Sam Darnold can ascend towards stardom just as easily as he can give Mike Francesca weekly aneurysms over the radio, but that arm talent is almost Patrick Mahomes-level. His defense ain’t too shabby either, too bad its led by Gregg freaking Williams.
There’s a difference between a playoff contender and a playoff lock; being the former, the Jets have vulnerabilities of their own. At home in the cold, the Bengals’ defense can force Darnold into making one too many mistakes.
RESULT: W (5-7)
Week 14: Bengals at Browns
We’ve reached the second week of December and finally, the Bengals face the team of much hype up I-71. For the first time in a long time, it’s safer to expect the Browns being above .500 than below .500 this late in the year. This team swept Cincinnati last year, and on paper, they got even better.
I would like to believe that a Freddie Kitchens-led staff can’t handle “too many egos in one locker room”, but, I don’t think that will be an issue if they’re in the playoff race at this point in the year. It’s hard to beat good teams on the road late in the year, even when they’re also the Browns.
RESULT: L (5-8)
Week 15: Bengals vs. Patriots
Maybe if Jarrett Stidham was starting. And even then, it’s probably a one score game.
RESULT: L (5-9)
Week 16: Bengals at Dolphins
There’s tanking, and there’s what the Dolphins are doing. You may call me a pessimist, but unless something miraculous occurs this season in South Beach, Taylor at least gets to beat one of his former employers this year.
RESULT: W (6-9)
Week 17: Bengals vs. Browns
Oh boy this will be so damn intriguing. The Browns could be coming down to Paul Brown Stadium with a possible playoff spot on the line, leaving the Bengals to play spoiler. If the Browns win this game, it would make it four straight wins for them in the rivalry. I just can’t stomach writing this into existence. Hell, they might’ve already clinched the division already. This is nearly five months into the future—what do I know?
RESULT: W (7-9)
FINAL RECORD: 7-9
- Home Record: 5-3
- Away Record: 2-6
- AFC Record: 5-7
- NFC Record: 2-2
- AFC North Record: 2-4
Playoff bound? Not quite. Failing to eclipse .500 in the division and wetting the bed on the road will force Taylor to look towards 2020.
I think it helps that Taylor will face the NFC West in his first year since being with the Rams, and two wins against the division is extremely possible. The reality is, his process of turning this team into his has only just begun, and he simply doesn’t have the talent to compete in an AFC North that hasn’t been this strong in a while.
And it’s unfair to put Taylor on a pedestal so early in his tenure. He’s sure to have growing pains as a play-caller and leader of 53 men.
And if he doesn’t, maybe he is McVay 2.0. This franchise could use some good fortune like that.