2014 Record – 10-5-1
WR Terrelle Pryor, WR Denarius Moore, DE Michael Johnson, OLB A.J. Hawk
RT Marshall Newhouse, TE Jermaine Gresham, CB Terrence Newman
Limited additions and limited departures. For a team that made the playoffs in 2014, this is actually a good thing heading into 2015. Most fans and pundits alike – including me – get too excited by “big” off-seasons. When a team signs the best wide receiver or defensive end on the market, we gravitate toward that excitement. Cincinnati didn’t do that and didn’t need to. After losing a good run defending, but bad pass defending corner in Terrence Newman, their former shutdown defender may lose his job as well. Leon Hall has never quite recovered from tearing his Achilles twice.
The defense was not good last season, which led to the offense needing to carry the extra weight. It’s surprising that they did so to the tune of 10 wins. They only had two particularly bad games offensively, but Andy Dalton has always had his critics. Dalton didn’t need to do it all on his own though, the team rushed for the sixth most yards and both Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard averaged at least 4.0 yards per carry.1 Last season was Dalton’s fewest TD passes ever, but he’s never thrown less than 13 interceptions either. This team doesn’t have the profile of a beautiful offense or top-tier defense, but they’ve shown year after year that they put it together enough for double-digit wins.
X-Factor – Michael Johnson
With a -84.8 and a -53.1 rating in overall defense and pass rush respectively by ProFootballFocus, it would seem that the Bengals could seriously use an upgrade on defense. Johnson made his career in Cincinnati before jumping to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a $43.75 million deal and producing just four sacks. Though he isn’t often near the top of sack leaderboards, his time in Cincinnati left him in the top-20 in QB hurries multiple times. If Johnson can turn back the clock then he can save the Bengals pass rush and defense as a whole, something that is much-needed on this squad.
2015 Breakout Player – Tyler Eifert
After a promising rookie campaign, Tyler Eifert missed almost all of 2014 with an elbow injury. Eifert has reportedly looked uncoverable in camp but that report comes out for lots of players every season. Splitting time with Jermaine Gresham kept Eifert’s overall numbers down but Gresham is gone in 2015 and Eifert is healthy. This isn’t a stretch of a breakout, but Eifert might be able to be the true #2 behind A.J. Green that they’ve been looking for.
Johnson rebounds from a down 2014 with Tampa Bay and Eifert takes some pressure off of Green while Dalton lowers his interception numbers and BAM! You’re looking at an AFC North winning team. 12-4
There’s no proof that Johnson will show up in his old form and without that the Bengals will need the offense to continue on without skipping a beat. No small feat. 8-8
Week 17. Simple answer. The Bengals take on their rival, the Baltimore Ravens, a team they’ll likely be competing with for another wild card berth in 2015.
Projected Record – 10-6
5.1 for Hill and 4.0 for Bernard ↩