The Cincinnati Bengals are getting the cold-shoulder treatment in relation to their AFC North competitors. Just consider how the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, and Cleveland Browns have had plenty of headlines since the 2019 season came to a close. Sometimes the publicity isn't always a good thing, but in this case the Bengals are looking like the clear-cut weak link in the division.
Even though the Bengals have a new head coach and brought back some reliable players, they are still fighting an uphill battle. The Bengals didn't make much of an impact in free agency, but head coach Zac Taylor has a vision for the players he has inherited.
The Bengals offense was absolutely atrocious last season, especially once quarterback Andy Dalton went down with a thumb injury that cost him a majority of the 2018 season. Unfortunately Dalton was not the only player to suffer a significant injury; wide receiver A.J. Green also missed a majority of the season with a nagging toe injury.
Cincinnati did have two bright spots in its offense — wide receiver Tyler Boyd and running back Joe Mixon — but the two young Bengals had a tough time putting the offense on their back with Green and Dalton sidelined. The Bengals were well within the bottom half of each offensive ranking, including points per game as well as yards (passing and rushing). Taylor will have a lot on his plate; he will likely pull out all the stops to get Cincinnati's offense back on track in 2019.
Re-establish Defensive Legitimacy
The Bengals don't have the tough defense they fielded from a few years ago, in which former defensive coordinator Paul Guenther used the players at his disposal very effectively. The defense has some fantastic talent led by strong forces on the defensive line, Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, but there wasn't an offense in the league the Bengals could contain last season.
Cincinnati allowed a league-worst 413.6 yards per game and ranked 30th in points per game with 28.4 last season, the first year without Guenther calling the plays. The Bengals have some great talent in the secondary with Jessie Bates and Shawn Williams, but each unit of the defense has had trouble getting on the same page. The 2019 season will be a tremendous test for a team that has to face Ben Roethlisberger, Lamar Jackson, and Baker Mayfield for six games out of the year. The Bengals have to find a way to withstand opposing offenses.
Reliance on Andy Dalton
The Bengals have proven to be a strong team whenever Andy Dalton performs well; this season will be no different. Zac Taylor has voiced his confidence in Dalton, who led the Bengals to the top of the AFC North in 2013 with 4,293 yards and 33 passing touchdowns. Cincinnati dominated the division with an 11-5 record.
Dalton will need to stay healthy and confident this season in order to lead a young Bengals team back to the top of the division, although the competition has improved exponentially since 2013. The Bengals will need Dalton and their new head coach to get on the same wavelength in order to compete within one of the league's toughest divisions.