After five straight playoff appearances, the Bengals were plagued by injuries in route to a 6-9-1 record in 2016. Their offseason focus was to get younger and faster, which they did through mainly through the draft with John Ross, Joe Mixon, Jordan Willis, and Carl Lawson. Here are game by game predictions for the 2017 Cincinnati Bengals.
Week 1: September 10, vs. Baltimore
Who could have imagined that it would take until year seven of the Dalton-Era for the club to open at home? There may not be a better opponent to do it against than the Baltimore Ravens. The Bengals have won the last five matchups in Cincinnati and Dalton, who has been played in four of those, has thrown for at least 260 yards in six of the last seven against them. Look for Joe Flacco, who didn’t play in the preseason, to be rusty and the Bengals to make it 6 straight wins at home vs. the Ravens. Bengals 24-20. Record: 1-0.
Week 2: September 14, vs. Houston (TNF)
For the third consecutive season, the Bengals get their annual Thursday Night game at home, which clearly is a bigger advantage than a normal week. Even without the horrific events that have happened in Houston, this is a tough turnaround for a young Texans offense. Now, with the uncertainty of where Houston is going to play their opening game, the cards fall into the Bengals favor. Houston has won 5 of the last 6, including playoffs, against the Bengals, but the Cincy defense should control the game and in yet another low scoring affair between the two clubs, the Bengals take this one to start 2-0. Bengals 17-13. Record: 2-0.
Week 3: September 24, @ Green Bay
The first battle away from the friendly confines of Paul Brown Stadium is one of the two toughest games on paper as we head into the season. In the final game without Vontaze Burfict, the Bengal defense will be missing 55 throughout the game. While Aaron Rodgers has never beaten the Bengals in his career, 0-2, but that figures to change in week three. The corners should be able to hold their own against the Packer wideouts, but Ty Montgomery and Martellus Bennett are matchup nightmares for the Bengals. Packers 31-21. Record: 2-1.
Week 4: October 1, @ Cleveland
Don’t get me wrong, the Browns will be much improved in year two under Hue Jackson. Their front seven won’t make things easy for the Bengals, but the secondary will not be able to handle A.J. Green and company, especially without Joe Haden. The Browns improved offensive line will help the Browns control the ball to keep them within striking distance, although to no avail. Bengals 27-17. Record: 3-1.
Week 5: October 8, vs. Buffalo
This game has gotten a lot easier on paper over the past month. The Bills are trading away valuable players for draft picks in a Philadelphia 76er-like manner, essentially giving up on this season. I don’t trust Tyrod Taylor to consistently make plays through the air, but should be able to dazzle with his legs enough to get in the endzone and make the score respectable. Bengals 28-16. Record: 4-1.
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: October 22, @ Pittsburgh
Along with the Green Bay game in week three, going to Pittsburgh is the next toughest game on the schedule. Although the Bengals have won more times in Pittsburgh in the Dalton-Green era than at home, going there against a healthy Steeler team will be too much for the boys in stripes. Marvin Lewis has been better lately coming off a bye, but Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown prove to be too much for the Cincy defense. Steelers 30-16.
Week 8: October 29, vs. Indianapolis
With uncertainty revolving around the health of Andrew Luck, this game is a wildcard on the schedule. If Luck is still not back, there is no doubt that the Bengals win easily. However, I believe the game will be tougher with Luck back, but the Bengals offense will be too much for the poor Colts secondary as they bounce back from a tough loss at Pittsburgh the week before. Bengals 34-23. Record: 5-2.
Week 9: November 5, @ Jacksonville
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have never lost to the Jaguars and this one may be the most important because it is the first of three straight on the road, as well as being the worst of the three teams. The Jaguars defense is improved, but the offense, led by Blake Bortles, is inept in too many ways to be competitive. A prototypical Bortles 4th quarter touchdown makes the score appear closer than the game indicates. Bengals 27-21. Record 6-2.
Week 10: November 12, @ Tennessee
Midway through the season, the Bengals are tied for the division lead with the Steelers, but now have the second of three straight road games as they to Tennessee. The much improved Titans are in the midst of a division race of their own, and put constant pressure on the Bengals run defense. DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry, and Marcus Mariota control the game and the score. Titans 24-20. Record: 6-3.
Week 11: November 19, @ Denver
No team should have to play three straight road games in the NFL, but the Bengals do as they head to mile-high with a 6-3 record. The Broncos offense will struggle most of the year without a competent quarterback, but it’s the same old dominant defense. The young offensive line of the Bengals will have too hard of a time with the consistent pass rush of Von Miller and co. as they lose consecutive games for the first time in 2017. Broncos 16-10. Record: 6-4.
Week 12: November 26, vs. Cleveland
The Browns have only scored more than 20 points once against the Bengals since 2012, and that won’t change in 2017. The defense steps up after back-to-back losses to get the Bengals back on track. The offense, led by big plays in coming out parties from the rookies, gets their rhythm back as well. Bengals 30-14. Record: 7-4.
Week 13: December 4, vs. Pittsburgh (MNF)
The Andy Dalton-primetime narrative is well known, and while the Bengals get swept by the Steelers again, he does his part in the effort, they come up just short. The defense can’t get enough stops, as the Steelers all but lock up the division. Steelers 34-27. Record 7-5.
Week 14: December 10, vs. Chicago
The Bengals have been good coming off losses most of the year, and it doesn’t change against the struggling Bears. The best time to play a bad team is late in the year, and the Bears won’t have the same pep in their step that they do early on. An easy win for the Bengals. Bengals 24-7. Record: 8-5.
Week 15: December 17, @ Minnesota
In the second of three straight against NFC North opponents, the Bengals travel up to Minnesota to take on former Bengals coordinator Mike Zimmer and the Vikings. They have put themselves in a great position for another playoff berth, but the Vikings defense has the potential to be one of the best in the league. In a game dominated by pass-rush, the Vikings make one more play and hit a game winner. Vikings 23-20. Record: 8-6.
Week 16: December 24, vs. Detroit
Christmas hasn’t been too merry for the city of Cincinnati (with the exception of 2012) when it comes to football. Memories of missed extra points in Denver and missed field goals in Houston are too often remembered. Cincinnati finally gets the game at home, but the result stays the same. Matt Prater hits the field goal and the Bengals lose for a second straight week at the gun. Lions 31-30. Record: 8-7.
Week 17: December 31, @ Baltimore
Heading into the final week of the season, the Bengals are tied with the Broncos and Chargers for the final wildcard spot. For the sixth time in the last seven years, the Bengals and Ravens meet in week 17, and it’s been the Bengals who have had the upper hand, winning the last four. The Ravens are out of contention at this point, which hurts their motivation. Andy Dalton and AJ Green continue their success in Baltimore as they win for the fifth straight time the two teams have met in the final week. Cincinnati now must wait on the Broncos-Chiefs result as the Broncos have the tiebreaker. Bengals 23-13. Record: 9-7.
Come back Wednesday to see if the Bengals get back to the playoffs for the 6th time in 7 years!