Two straight losing seasons. 13-19-1. No playoff win since 1991. Marvin Lewis gets extension. Wait, what!?? How could this be? The Cincinnati fan base had had enough. Many claimed to “never support again.” They were just “the same old Bengals.” But this off-season WAS different, believe it or not. A new defensive coordinator, an offensive coordinator that was taken off the “interim” tag, which means a both new coordinators. Seven new coaches, including firing a coach that was here for 23 years. Cutting veterans, such as Adam Jones, George Iloka, Ryan Hewitt, and recently signed Chris Baker. These are things that this franchise hasn’t done in the past. It’s another restart, which is exactly what Joe Goodberry wrote about this weekend. The fourth one of the Marvin Lewis-era. The three previous, 2003, 2009, and 2011, produced records of 8-8, 11-5, and 9-7, including two playoff appearances. The national narrative is rather somber about the Bengals hopes this season, mainly because of the Coach-QB combo. However, there are a few that actually believe in them, such as Peter King. Restarts are good, especially when the team has as much young talent as this team does.
Week 1: September 9, @ Indianapolis
The best time to play this Colts team is early, no question about it. Andrew Luck hasn’t played in a regular season game in 616 days come Sunday. He’s missed 26 games over the last three seasons. There is bound to be some rust. On top of that, the Colts weaknesses are matched up against the Bengals strength. Indy struggles to pass protect, and this Bengals front has a chance to be one of the best in the league. The Bengals have protected Andy in preseason, while the Colts secondary is one of the worst. I think the Bengals get off to a fast start and that will be too much to put on Luck this early. Bengals 27-20. Record: 1-0.
Week 2: September 13, vs. Baltimore (TNF)
I can’t seem to wrap my head around the Bengals getting to the postseason without winning the first two. While it certainly doesn’t guarantee that they will get there if they win both, it puts them in position early. The Bengals have been blessed with another Thursday night game at home. That makes it 5 straight years. It hasn’t been to their advantage, as they are just 2-2 in those games. Baltimore is going to be fired up after the Bengals kept them from getting to the postseason a year ago. But in this game, I think the short week benefits the Bengals and AJ Green should have a field day against the a Ravens secondary that won’t have Jimmy Smith. Bengals 19-14. Record: 2-0.
Week 3: September 23, @ Carolina
The Bengals will get the long week to prepare for Carolina and the fanbase will be behind them big time at 2-0. This isn’t a good matchup for Cincinnati, though. Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey spear head their running attack, which will give the Bengals defense fits. They never have fared well against mobile signal-callers. Of the two straight on the road, this one is more winnable, but a late drive and field goal gives them the first loss of the year. Panthers 23-20. Record: 2-1.
Week 4: September 30, @ Atlanta
Back to back, on the road, out of conference. That’s brutal for the men in stripes. It makes it worst that traveling to Atlanta will be one of the two toughest games all year. Look for Mohammad Sanu and Calvin Ridley to step up with William Jackson following Julio, while Vic Beasley gets after Dalton on the other side of the ball. This is the biggest deficit of the season for Cincinnati. Falcons 30-14. Record 2-2.
Week 5: October 7, v. Miami
The Bengals finally get their first Sunday home game in week five as the Dolphins come to town. Coming off two losses, a momentum swing is much needed. Without weapons on the outside, Ryan Tannehill will struggle to move the ball, similarly to the 2016 Thursday night game in Cincinnati. It is my feeling that this will be the John Ross coming out party, as he goes deep for two big scores. Bengals 31-16. Record: 3-2.
Week 6: October 14, v. Pittsburgh
The big matchup. If the Bengals want to win the division, a win (or two) over the Steelers is necessary. Vontaze Burfict should be much better in his second week back from suspension, not to mention how ready he’ll be following last seasons hit he took from JuJu Smith-Schuster. As much as the Bengals will need this game, I cannot with confidence think that they can go out and beat Pittsburgh with the youth that they have. Steelers 27-17. Record: 3-3.
Week 7: October 21, @ Kansas City
For the second straight week, the Bengals take on a playoff team from last season . The new look Chiefs will be a much different test than what they’ve had in the past. The west coast style that Andy Reid perfected with Alex Smith is going to go vertical with Pat Mahomes behind center. The Chiefs need to outscore teams to win and I think their home-field advantage is the difference here. Kansas City 28-23. Record: 3-4.
Week 8: October 28, v. Tampa Bay
The crossroads of the season. At 3-4, the Bengals face a must win game before the bye week. Jameis Winston will be back at this point, but the Buccaneers offense looks very one dimensional with their situation at RB. The Bengals defensive line should be able to force Winston to make poor decisions, something he has been prone to do in his career. Cincinnati heads into the bye week with a big win. Bengals 24-14. Record: 4-4
Week 9: BYE WEEK
Week 10: November 11, v. New Orleans
Much like beating the Steelers is a necessity to win the division, beating a team at home that they shouldn’t is also needed to make the playoffs. The bye week at the midway point of the season should help the team get healthy, and they will need everyone to take down the Saints. Andy Dalton has had success against the New Orleans in the past, and I think that happens again. Tyler Boyd and the RBs will be crucial in the passing game, as the Bengals upset the Saints. Bengals 23-21. Record: 5-4.
Week 11: November 18, @ Baltimore
Andy Dalton and AJ Green have won three of the last four matchups in Baltimore, with 18 having big games. I think the Bengals are also better than the Ravens, but not by leaps and bounds. Because of this, I think it will be really hard to sweep them, something that was done in ’14 and ’15. Ravens 17-13. Record: 5-5.
Week 12: November 25, v. Cleveland
Six games left in the season and the Bengals haven’t played the Browns yet! That should bode well despite Cleveland being much improved this year. Tyrod Taylor may or may not still be the starter under center at this point in the season. This very well could be the beginning of the Baker-era, as Cleveland comes in off their bye. Regardless, the Bengals have dominated the Browns (other than the UGLY TNF game), and that won’t change in these teams first matchup. Bengals 34-16. Record 6-5.
Week 13: December 2, v. Denver
Heading into 3 of the last four on the road, the pressure will be on the Bengals to hold strong when Denver comes to town. John Elway’s ever-longing search for a quarterback has landed on Case Keenum, who did “lead” the Vikings to the NFC Championship last season. I believe it was more fluke than talent. The Broncos defense should be great once again, but there is nothing out there that says they should be markedly better offensively. Cincinnati went to Denver last season and beat the Broncos, and they should make it two in a row in a nail-biter. Bengals 21-20. Record: 7-5.
Week 14: December 9, @ Los Angeles Chargers
The beginning of the final stretch begins out west taking on the LA Chargers, a sneaky pick for the Superbowl. Andy Dalton and company have won 3 of the their four matchup against LA, including 3-0 in the regular season, but this is a different club. Philip Rivers has a reliable running game, but more importantly a dominating defense. Two of the best DLs will battle in this game and I just can’t seem to believe that the Bengals will be able to block them. Dalton will be running for his life, as the Chargers take it. Chargers 27-17. Record: 7-6.
Week 15: December 16, v. Oakland
Jon Gruden returns to Ohio for the first time since taking the job back in Oakland, but this game looks much different now than it did a week ago. Oakland has the oldest roster in the NFL, while the Bengals have the youngest. With Khalil Mack in Chicago, Andy Dalton should have more time to carve up the questionable secondary. Bengals 24-19. Record 8-6.
Week 16: December 23, @ Cleveland
Baker Mayfield should no doubt be starting at this point in the season, as this game will mean much more to Cincy than their counterparts up by Lake Erie. But, like so many times before when these teams play, the Bengals front seven dominates. Geno, Los, and Carl Lawson should be all over Big Game Baker. Bengals 27-20. Record 9-6.
Week 17: December 30, @ Pittsburgh
Here it is. Exactly what the NFL wants. Pittsburgh 9-6. Cincinnati 9-6. Meet in Pittsburgh to end the season. Winner take all. We’ve seen this before. 2005, 2006, 2015. Now 2018. One thing they all have in common. Pittsburgh winning. As the youngest team in the league, many of the Bengals haven’t experienced this type of atmosphere, and none of them have won in it. The Killer Bees sting again. Pittsburgh 34-31. Record 9-7.
Will this be good enough to make the playoffs? Check back tomorrow to find out!