This was supposed to be the year that the Cincinnati Bengals ascended to the top of the NFL world. They had the quarterback, the playmakers, the hard-hitting defense and the skill on special teams. Head coach Zac Taylor appeared poised to have his team take the next step and get past the outstanding competition in the AFC and then win the Super Bowl.

The Bengals were one of the most highly respected teams as they prepared for the start of the season. Only the Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills had better odds than the Bengals, and since they had lost the previous season's AFC title game to the Chiefs, their fans had the opportunity to support them in 2023, according to KY betting.

But things started to go wrong in the early stages of training camp when quarterback Joe Burrow suffered a pulled muscle that kept him from practicing for several weeks. While the Bengals could not suffer any regular-season losses in August, Burrow was forced to play catch-up and the team lacked cohesion in the first few weeks of the season.

The Bengals lost three of their first four games, including their first two to divisional rivals Cleveland and Baltimore. But they appeared to regain their mojo with a four-game winning streak that included a road win over NFC powerhouse San Francisco followed by a convincing victory over Buffalo.

Burrow injury derailed the Bengals

The Bengals appeared to have the momentum to gain a spot in the AFC playoffs. But they suffered a debilitating blow in Week 11 when Burrow went down with a wrist injury in a 34-20 loss to the Ravens. Burrow is clearly one of the game's elite quarterbacks because of his arm strength, accuracy, timing and athleticism, and the Bengals could not recover from his season-ending injury.

They did not give up and backup quarterback Jake Browning gave an excellent account of himself, but the Bengals were not good enough to get to the postseason. They did secure a winning record as a result of a 3-game winning streak in early December, but two losses in their final three games left them on the outside of the playoff structure looking in.

A healthy Burrow would have made a difference, but the Bengals had weaknesses. Their offensive line did not hold up throughout the season.

They are also likely to need a backup wideout to complement Ja'Marr Chase because Tee Higgins is likely to leave through free agency.

These appear to be the biggest needs going into the offseason.

Finding the right offensive tackle could pay huge dividends.

The Bengals are looking to upgrade the offensive line for two reasons. They clearly want to give Burrow as much protection as possible, and they also want to give their running game a major assist.

The Bengals should have one of the best offensive teams in the NFL, but they ranked 22nd in yards per game, and 31st in rushing yards per game.

As far as the downturn in the ground game is concerned, finding a No. 1 back to replace Joe Mixon (1,034 yards and 4.02 yards per carry) is probably advantageous, but the addition of a strong tackle is required. Mixon will be starting his 8th year in the NFL in 2024.

Some of the top offensive tackles are scheduled to hit free agency at the start of the 2024 league year that begins March 14.

The two best tackles available will be Tyron Smith of the Cowboys and Trent Brown of the Patriots. Smith could be a pie in the sky type of player that may be out of the Bengals reach because they are not known for their huge pay days — other than for Burrow ($29.7 million cap hit) and Trey Hendrickson ($20.1 million cap hit).

Brown would be an excellent fit, as would Mekhi Becton of the Jets and Austin Jackson of the Dolphins.

If they can pick up any of these tackles, it could go a long way to regaining the team's elite status.

Supporting Chase would make the offense more explosive

If Higgins moves on to greener pastures, the Bengals will need to find another wideout. They can certainly make a move for one in the NFL Draft, but president Mike Brown and director of pro personnel Duke Tobin could address this situation in free agency.

Mike Evans of the Buccaneers, Calvin Ridley of the Jaguars, Darnell Mooney of the Bears and Gabe Davis of the Bills could be potential targets.

Evans appears to be the best of the bunch, and that could be a major upgrade for Burrow. A duo of the Chase and Evans might be unsurpassed among NFL wide receiver duos.