The Bengals have been on a positive trend-line over the past three seasons. They improved from four to nine to ten wins since 2010.
The talented duo of Andy Dalton and AJ Green has given the team a passing attack that is constantly improving. Rookie additions Tyler Eifert and Giovanni Bernard will add to that attack. The defense is also looking better and better. And while the Bengals add talented players, their division rivals are losing them.
So, for the Bengals the 2013 season is one with hope for even better things. Their trend line points to the possibility of winning 11 or even 12 games this year, but it will take a lot of work from a lot of young guys. I like the Bengals chances this year, maybe more than I should. With that said, here are six bold predictions for the 2013 season.
6. Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert will be the best TE duo in the league
With Aaron Hernandez out of football, Tom Brady’s dynamic duo will no longer be claiming the title of best TE duo in the league. More and more teams are transitioning to using more two tight end sets. Some of the best duos this season should include Witten and Escobar in Dallas, Kelce and Moeaki in Kansas City, Scheffler and Pettigrew in Detroit, and Celek and Casey in Philly.
By the end of the season though, none of these tandems will come close to the statistical output that we will see from Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert.
Over the past three seasons Gresham has improved his production season after season. Last year he caught 64 passes for 737 yards and five scores. He was one of Andy Dalton’s favorite targets and should continue to improve in 2013. But he won’t be alone.
The Bengals did not spend their first round pick on the best tight end in the draft just to have him slowly introduced as a new weapon for Dalton. They will utilize Tyler Eifert early and often and I expect to see plenty of two tight end sets. Don’t be surprised if this duo combines for over 1,600 receiving yards and 12-16 scores.
5. Hard Knocks will regret picking the Bengals
When HBO’s “Hard Knocks” featured the Bengals four years ago, they were focused on a team that always had the outcasts and bad boys on their roster. They followed a team that had only won four games the year before and there were plenty of moments where coaches were fired up an ticked off at their players.
Since then the Bengals have averaged over eight wins a year including playoff appearances in three of the last four season. So what does HBO expect this year?
The youth leadership on the team including quarterback, numerous wide receivers, both starting tight ends, and a rookie running back, has proven that they are quickly maturing and becoming the favorites in the AFC North. The dissention you might have expected to see four years ago just won’t be there. Players have bought in to the system as they see it work.
So by the end of the off-season we might have a time or two where we enjoy a scene from Hard Knocks, but HBO might wish they had just re-aired their 2009 work on the Bengals.
4. Giovanni Bernard will finish second on the team in receptions
The Bengals have plenty of threats in the passing game including the previously mentioned tight end duo of Gresham and Eifert and one of the best wide receivers in the league in AJ Green. Mohammed Sanu will be another threat on the outside, but maybe the most dynamic player on the team could be Giovanni Bernard.
The Bengals took Bernard before any other running back was selected in the draft and they did so for a very specific reason. He will be a great pass-catching back for Dalton which will give the young quarterback another option to get rid of the ball quickly. While Green should definitely finish first in receptions, Bernard could see 60 or more catches out of the backfield.
Benjarvis Green-Ellis will certainly be a part of the ground attack, but he is not nearly as talented or dynamic of a player as Bernard. Expect Dalton to look to Bernard often.
3. Andy Dalton will have 4,500 total yards and 40 scores
For Bengals fans this may sound too good to be true. But when we take a closer look at Dalton’s progression from his rookie to his sophomore year and then throw in a first and second round pick that will serve as new offensive weapons, it isn’t too hard to believe.
In 2011, Dalton had a decent rookie campaign throwing for 3400 yards and 20 scores. Moving to 2012 he and stud wide receiver AJ Green both had a year under their belts and Dalton’s numbers improved to 3670 passing yards and 27 passing scores plus an additional four scores on the ground. Based solely on the rate of increase from year one to two, Dalton should expect around 3970 passing yards. But the story doesn’t stop there.
Dalton was only 15th in the league in passing attempts, finishing with 200 fewer attempts then the league leader Matthew Stafford. Dalton ranked 12th in completion percentage after finishing 22nd in that same category in 2012, showing his improvement in decision making and his core of receivers. In 2013, the Bengals have added two offensive threats with their first two picks in Tyler Eifert and Giovanni Bernard.
Eifert came into the draft touted as the best tight end; and it wasn’t even close. At 6’6 and 250 pounds, Eifert will be a nightmare to defend especially when lined up in two tight-end sets with 6’5, 260 pound Jermaine Gresham who had 64 receptions and five scores of his own last year. Bernard had back to back seasons with at least 45 receptions and as the first back taken in the draft, you can expect that the Bengals will use him regularly.
With these two new weapons, the Bengals will finally utilize Dalton to his fullest abilities. By simply increasing his passing attempts from 528 to closer to 580 and likely also increasing his yard per attempt total with more options on the field from 6.95 (18th in 2012) to even top 12 (7.29) , he should see a jump to around 4225 passing yards. Add his usual rushing totals and 4500 yards is within reach.
His jump from 21 total scores in 2011 to 31 in 2012 already sets a nice pace. With the previously mentioned additional threats in the passing game, and the scrambling abilities Dalton showed last season, 40 scores will also be an attainable goal.
2. The Bengals will win the AFC North... by at least two games
The Bengals have been competitive in the AFC North for a few years now, even going 6-0 and winning it back in 2009. So it makes sense that they will once again be competitive.
If you have actually read the previous slides you can tell that my expectations for the team as a whole are very high. They should have one of the more dynamic offenses in the AFC and definitely the best one in the AFC North. They watched as numerous high caliber players left the Super Bowl champions and watched Big Ben lose his best receiver. They even got James Harrison to defect from the Steelers to play for them.
All of these pieces adds up to one thing: division champs. Over the past six years though, the AFC North has been won by a tiebreaker four times and by only one game the other two times. You have to look back to 2006 to find a division champ that won by at least two games. But these Bengals have all of the pieces to dominate the division.
Not only is 6-0 in the division possible (although unlikely), but the passing attack the Bengals will display will keep them in games outside of the division while the run-heavy Steelers, Ravens, and Brown will find it difficult to compete with the likes of the NFC North and other AFC teams.
So I will take the Bengals to finish at 11-5 with the Steelers at 9-7 and the Ravens in a distant third at under .500.
1. Cincinnati will overcome their playoff woes and make it to the AFC title game
The Bengals will not claim on of the top two playoff spot this year. That honor will go to the Broncos and Texans. But the Bengals have a legit shot at the three spot with New England fading and the Colts finishing second in their own division.
At 11-5 the Bengals grab the three seed and face the six seed, who could be anyone from the Steelers to the Dolphins to the Chiefs. The Bengals will host that game and be favored against any of those teams and despite their recent playoff woes, where they have not won a playoff game since 1990, this young team is ready to get over that hurdle.
Not only will they win a wild-card game, but playing the Texans in the conference semi-finals will give them a chance at redemption after the Texans knocked them out of the playoffs the last two seasons. They match-up well with Houston and showed in a six point loss last year that they are only a step away from being able to beat the Texans; even in Houston.
The Bengals, just like the other 14 teams in the AFC, don’t have what it takes to knock down the Broncos. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the AFC title game was a shoot-out with both teams putting up some major yardage totals.