I realize it’s technically the second half of the NFL season, but this is my first chance to discuss the Bengals to this point.
The Bengals currently sit at 6-3 with a 1.5 game lead over the Cleveland Browns in the AFC North. If the season ended today, the Bengals would host Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in a first round Wild Card game at Paul Brown Stadium.
Obviously there is a lot of football yet to be played and the playoff picture is sure to change between now and January.
The good news is the Bengals are in first place and control their own destiny for the remainder of the season. They have beat quality opponents in the likes of the Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, and Detroit Lions. They strung together a four game winning streak and played arguably their most complete game of the Marvin Lewis era by dismantling the New York Jets.
Andy Dalton has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the 2013 season. Dalton is the most scrutinized player on the Bengals roster by fans and analyst across the NFL. Many believe (myself included) that this team can go as far as Andy Dalton is physically able to take them. If Andy Dalton can consistently produce the statistics that earned him Offensive Player of the Month honors in October, the Bengals are a Super Bowl contender.
As expected, the defensive line has been outstanding. The depth at tackle and the end spots have accounted for 17.5 sacks and have proved pivotal against Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Matthew Stafford. The unit reminds me of the New York Giants Super Bowl teams of 2008 and 2012.
A good defensive line can mask other issues on the defensive side of the football and force great quarterbacks such as Rodgers and Brady to seem ordinary. The Bengals ability to pressure the quarterback and continually rotate players has made them one of the best units in the NFL.
The emergence of weapons surrounding Andy Dalton has made this offense fun to watch once again. We’ve seen Dalton utilize seven to eight guys on any given drive at times throughout this season. Opposing defenses are being exposed for doubling AJ Green and the Bengals are putting together lengthy and time consuming drives at the right times.
Also, Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert have been major contributors in the first season in the NFL. Bernard gave us the highlight of the 2013 season this past week in Miami.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Giovani Bernard be the feature back for the remainder of the season.
Every team deals with injuries. They have become commonplace and accounted for the “next man up” mentality heard so many times by head coaches around the league. With that being said, losing Geno Atkins for the year with a torn ACL feels like a potential season altering injury.
The Bengals have lost arguably their two best defensive players in Atkins and Leon Hall for the season. Adam Jones has played good enough in the absence of Hall over the past few weeks, but it will be interesting to see how the defensive line responds to losing its best player and leader in Geno Atkins.
Although Andy Dalton has shown flashes this season, he’s been far too inconsistent to be considered an elite quarterback. It’s clear that Dalton can’t throw the deep ball, but the biggest concern has been his lack of accuracy on short and intermediate routes.
This past week in Miami saw Dalton throw a pick six in the red zone on a 10 yard out to Marvin jones. A ball that should have been thrown to the outside shoulder of Jones was under thrown and allowed the defensive back to make a play. The result was a 90 yard interception return for a touchdown and a dramatic shift in momentum.
It’s mistakes like these which have kept Dalton as a middle tier NFL quarterback and limited the Bengals offensive firepower.
Second Half Predictions
Despite the losses of Geno Atkins and Leon Hall, I think the Bengals still win the AFC North. Cleveland is underrated and will keep the AFC North somewhat competitive, but I think Cincinnati is a better team overall.
I have the Bengals going 5-2 down the stretch with losses at San Diego and Pittsburgh. With an 11-5 record, the Bengals will host a Wild Card game in Cincinnati.