If there is one thing Bengals fans know all too well, it's to expect the unexpected. Whether it's a rookie emerging out of nowhere, a disappointing season that seemed so promising, or other oddities, the roller coaster of Queen City fandom has its twists and turns.
The 2015 season has provided another crazy ride, but it's more like a brand new, exciting experience. As the midseason point has emerged, we take a look at some of the biggest surprises of this year for the Cincinnati Bengals--both positive and negative.
Tyler Eifert's Dominance: Most figured that having the big, athletic tight end would have a positive impact on the Bengals' offense, but you would be hard-pressed to find someone who would have predicted this type of campaign. Through eight games, Eifert leads the NFL in receiving touchdowns with nine and has tied two franchise records for the position in the areas of receiving touchdowns in a season and receiving touchdowns in a game (three). All of this and there is still a half of a season to play.
Jeremy Hill's Struggles: The big back began to look like a budding star with his late-season explosion and seemed poised for a Pro Bowl berth in 2015. While he's been reaching the end zone pretty frequently with six total touchdowns (five rushing, one receiving), but has a paltry 3.3 yards per carry after netting 5.1 last season. We're not sure if it's blocking, tentative running from Hill, and/or other factors, but he has yet to have a 100-yard rushing game this season (five in 2014). The hope is that he'll get better as the weather gets worse, but we'll just have to see if that truly becomes the case.
Andy Dalton's Resurgence: With the return of Eifert and wide receiver Marvin Jones, the fifth-year quarterback looks like a new man. In eight games, he has 18 touchdowns against just four interceptions, along with two other rushing touchdowns. He's on pace to break every career-best in all major passing stat categories, and is having an MVP-like season thus far. It should continue, should his confidence level remain high and everyone continues to stay healthy.
Defensive Line Rounding Back to Form: The Bengals embraced an offseason mantra that simply getting good players back healthy would make them one of the best team's in the league. On offense, it was the return of Eifert and Jones, while the defense was relying on the returns of Geno Atkins and Vontaze Burfict at linebacker. The defensive line needed a boost, given their dead-last ranking in quarterback sacks in 2014, so they brought back familiar faces in Pat Sims and Michael Johnson. What's ensued is more team sacks than they had all of last season and a current No. 5 ranking in the category. Atkins has had a major impact, already doubling his sack total from last year in just eight games this season, while Carlos Dunlap is second in the league with 8.5 sacks so far this year.
Franchise Record 8-0 Start: While there were many in the media who picked the Bengals to miss the playoffs in 2015, most who knew the insides and out of this team still thought they would be good. However, very few, scratch that, no one, picked the team to have a franchise record-breaking start to the season with eight straight wins to start 2015. They're currently in line for the second seed in the AFC Playoff Picture, setting themselves up for a first round bye. Surely, given the struggles they have had in the first round of the playoffs, they would love to have that initial break to get healthy and game plan themselves to their first postseason victory since 1991. Regardless, it's nice seeing the team exude the confidence that they will win every time they take the field this season.