The 2017 season could be a make or break year for longtime head coach Marvin Lewis.
Lewis is the NFL coach with the second longest coaching tenure to New England’s Bill Belichick but instead of five championship rings, the Bengals boss has seven playoff games to his credit – all losses.
The coach will be on the hot seat after a 6-9-1 dumpster fire in 2016. Probably nothing less than a playoff appearance and a win or two may save his job. Lewis, however, has one thing going for him. The team’s owners are notoriously cheap and that has amounted to job security.
If the Bengals are to have any success, it is likely going to rest on the arm of quarterback Andy Dalton.
Dalton had a horrible year but it wasn’t entirely his fault. For some strange reason, the team allowed the bulk of his receiving corps to depart via free agency and top target A.J. Green was sidelined for several games with a hamstring injury.
Not only that but Dalton took a pounding behind a porous offensive line that allowed 41 sacks. If there isn’t improved play from the line, then Dalton may not live to see the playoffs again.
The ground game also had an off year. Multi-purpose back Giovani Bernard went down with a torn ACL in November and Jeremy Hill has never managed to replicate his breakout rookie season in 2014 and is a threat to turn the ball over every time it’s in his hands.
Rookie running back Joe Mixon should replace the human fumble machine Hill who saves his worst cases of butterfingers for crunch moments. Never forget that unbelievable choke job in the 2015 wild card playoff game when Cincy snatched defeat from the jaws of victory thanks to Hill’s killer fumble.
Mixon may have a lot of questions in regard to character issues but all will be forgiven if he can just hold onto the damn ball.
Dalton should benefit from a bit more help at the receiver position in 2017. For one, Green is healthy again and the team added University of Washington speedster John Ross with their first pick in the draft.
Tight End Tyler Eifert is coming back from offseason back surgery and if healthy, could once again be the go-to guy in the red zone like he was in 2015 when he caught 13 touchdowns.
The defense will suffer from the loss of linebackers Karlos Dansby and Rey Maualuga but the line and secondary should help fill the void.
The kicking game was also a killer in 2015. The Bengals lost at least three games due to kicking ineptitude and spent a fifth-round draft pick on Jake Elliott of Memphis.
If he can’t get it done, then look for the Bengals to look for another option. The loser of the Tampa Bay kicking battle between Nick Folk and erratic Roberto Aguayo could end up in tiger stripes, if the Bucs stick with the scattershot FSU kicker then Folk would be a steal.
So, what does it all mean?
Barring injuries, the Pittsburgh Steelers are probably a lock to win the AFC North but a reinvigorated offense could allow the Bengals to challenge for a wild card but given Lewis’ history of playoff futility it will probably be one and done.Wake up Right! Subscribe to our Morning Briefing and get the news delivered to your inbox before breakfast!