The Cincinnati Bengals suffered a down year in the 2016 season, missing the playoffs for the first time in six years with a 6-9-1 record.
Marvin Lewis’ men were aiming to respond to their heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers last term, but injuries and a lack of form from quarterback Andy Dalton halted their aspirations, finishing in third in the AFC North.
The Bengals are now faced with the prospect of rebuilding the core of their team, with several veterans scheduled to hit the free-agent market, although they have retained the majority of their coaching staff for the first time in three years.
As a result, they are in a stronger position to make a return to the playoffs in the 2017 campaign then last season.
We’ll now take a look back at the last season to see what went wrong for the Bengals and what they will need to do to compete for a place in the playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Bengals their impressive 2015 campaign left them with contests against the number one ranked sides in the AFC, two of which came in the first five weeks of the season.
However, they began their term with a battling win over the New York Jets on the road when Dalton led a drive late in the fourth quarter, allowing Mike Nugent to send a field goal between the posts.
Lewis’ men failed to rise to the occasion in their bid to avenge their playoff defeat to the Steelers. They were outplayed from start to finish by their AFC North rivals, although a late comeback was ended following a fumble from rookie Tyler Boyd.
The Denver Broncos were another top side in the conference that had too much quality for Cincinnati over the course of the match. Lewis’ men match their opponents for the majority of the contest, but fourth-quarter touchdowns took the game away from them.
The Bengals were able to overcome an early deficit to secure their second win of the season against the Miami Dolphins. Kenny Stills put the visitors ahead with a 73-yard strike, but after that Cincinnati took control, scoring 19 straight points to earn the win on home soil.
Quality outfits were on the horizon and the rookie duo of Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott powered the Dallas Cowboys to a comfortable win, while Tom Brady excelled for the New England Patriots to drive them to a simple victory.
The Cleveland Browns were a godsend for the Bengals to get them back on track with a comfortable win. However, they spurned the chance to get back to .500, tying with the Washington Redskins at Wembley Stadium in a crazy match as both teams spurned excellent chances to win the game in overtime.
In the second half of the campaign the Bengals were presented with the chance to catch the Steelers at the top of the AFC North due to an injury to Ben Roethlisberger. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Ravens were equally finding life difficult due to the struggles of Joe Flacco.
The first defeat after the bye week was a painful one for the Bengals as they lost out by a single point to the New York Giants, with Dalton unable to muster a fourth-quarter comeback.
Another damaging defeat followed as Lewis’ men were beaten by the Buffalo Bills by a four-point margin, while the loss was made worse by a season-ending injuries suffered by All-Pro AJ Green and running back Giovani Bernard.
The Ravens were able to capitalise on the two injuries to claim a five-point win at M&T Bank Stadium as Dalton and his offense struggled without presence of the dynamic duo. They mustered 12 points due to the return of tight end Tyler Eifert, but Baltimore saw out the win with a peculiar play, holding on the final snap to prevent a punt return from Lewis’ men.
Cincinnati’s loss to their rivals all but ended their playoff aspirations, despite putting in excellent performances in back-to-back weeks to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles and the Browns to improve to 5-7-1.
However, two bad displays were to follow against the Steelers and the Houston Texans, with the offense once again failing to fire scoring just 30 points combined in the defeats.
Their season ended on a high note with a victory at home over the Ravens as Rex Burkehead put in an impressive display, although it did not mean a great deal in the context of the term for either side.
The Bengals will have to get their key players to return to health. Green’s injury devastated the offense’s production in the second half of the season, while Eifert’s lingering issues limited their effectiveness in the redzone.
Bernard’s loss was also impactful, robbing the Bengals of their most dynamic player out of the backfield. Simply having those three players fully fit for entire 2017 should be enough to turn some of their close defeats into victories.
Cincinnati‘s offensive line was suspect last term, making a long-term extension for Kevin Zeitler a must. The guard has been outstanding in his five seasons at the club and keeping him should stop a potential weakness from becoming more of a problem than it currently is. The same could be said for Andrew Whitworth, although his advancing years could make him expendable.
Dre Kirkpatrick and Brandon LaFell could also have their deals extended, although the former could be allowed to test the free-agent market, with last year’s first-round draft pick William Jackson III in line to replace him in the team.
The Bengals should be eyeing defensive line help either in free agency or during the draft. Charles Johnson and Jabaal Sheard could be available at a decent rate, while William Gholston or Jack Crawford are options that will be cheaper for Lewis’ men.
On the offensive side of the ball Kendall Wright, Brian Quick or Robert Woods could provide a nice complement to Green, allowing Boyd to remain in the number three role where he thrived during his rookie campaign.
The Bengals could be in the mix to select the first wide receiver in the NFL Draft with the ninth selection. Mike Williams is the best of the wideouts available out of the college prospects due to his outstanding level of play for the Clemson Tigers, and is backed by BetOnline sportsbook at -200 to be the first receiver taken in the selection process. Surrounding Dalton and Green with talent is a must for the club, so it would be a smart option to take.
Lewis’ men were a 12-win team in the 2015 campaign, although they failed to get over their playoff hump against the Steelers. Should they retain their talent during free agency and add the surrounding talent to their solid core of players then they could be in line for a deep run in the post-season. Keeping their best men healthy will be key, but it’s not out of the question for the Bengals to be the AFC’s representative in the Super Bowl next year at a price of +2000 .
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