This was originally published in The Athletic.
Let’s get 2018 out of the way.
I believe the Bengals will finish with a 9-7 record this season, which in the mess that is the AFC, could allow them to qualify for the playoffs for the eighth time in Marvin Lewis’ 16 seasons.
I feel good enough about a few things on this team, mainly that with the potential for its pass rush, it’s finally formed an identity. And that the offensive line – while far from a finished product – could at least be just below-average enough to pull the offense out of the morass it’s been stuck in the last two seasons.
I’m hopeful for the possibilities of the skill players. I believe that Tyler Boyd and John Ross can be newer, even if slightly less accomplished versions of 2014’s Mohamed Sanu (56 catches/790 yards) and 2013’s Marvin Jones (51/712). I think the late-preseason fretting over corner depth is a little overstated; I doubt you can find me an NFL team that’s truly five-deep at corner. And Andy Dalton is established enough that if things around him go reasonably well, he’s as much a guarantee to deliver more wins than losses as he is to ensure the season doesn’t completely go down the tank if they don’t.
There are other reasons to believe the Bengals can have a winning record. Injuries go a long way toward shaping an NFL season – the Bengals’ 2015 team enjoyed great health most of the season until Dalton suffered an injury in week 13 – and this team begins the season as one of the most intact in the league. Their schedule seems mildly forgiving, with maybe five opponents among the league’s top 15 teams. And while so many less-experienced players bring uncertainty, I believe the young guys will improve enough as the season progresses for the team to get better as the weeks pass.
That’s also why, as much as I’m optimistic about this season, I’m starting to get really excited about the next one.
To read the entire piece, go to The Athletic.