In less than 30 days training camps will begin for NFL teams all throughout the league, including in Cincinnati with the Bengals. As the fall season approaches I always get excited as it is my favorite season here in Nashville where I reside but also because football season will be here. As a Bengals fan for over 25 years I am excited about the potential for the Bengals in 2016–they have a chance to do something great, namely win a playoff game for the first time in 26 years and also to potentially make a Super Bowl run. Yes the team did lose a few key players this off season in receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu and also it is unfortunate that they were not able to re-sign safety Reggie Nelson but other than that I like the moves the team has made to retain their own, bring in a few outside veterans, and it looks like they had another solid draft while keeping most of their core in tact.
Below are three reasons to be optimistic and even excited about the Bengals in 2016 season:
1. A fully healthy Andy Dalton.
In 2015 prior to his Week 13 injury against the Steelers, Andy Dalton was having the best season of his career and his name was coming up in MVP discussions on the regular. Dalton lead the Bengals to an 8-0 start and his season ended with him having thrown 25 TD passes against only 7 INT’s, he also completed a career high 66.1% of his passes with a 106.3 QB rating. The one bright spot to come from Dalton’s injury is that we now know backup quarterback A.J. McCarron is capable and has starter potential in the NFL, but most believed the Bengals could have made a deep playoff run had Dalton not gone down. I can’t help but think what the team may have done had they defeated the Steelers in the Wild Card game and then Dalton been ready to play again the following week. All this to say I think that having a fully healthy Andy Dalton back to start for the Bengals in 2016 is a big reason alone to be optimistic and excited about the Bengals chances of getting back to the playoffs in 2016.
2. A motivated, redemption-seeking Jeremy Hill.
I have been impressed with how running back Jeremy Hill has handled himself after fumbling the football in the Wild Card game with a minute and half left in the game. He has owned it and I believe will come back motivated and seeking to redeem himself and carry the team back to the post season. I heard Hill recently say how awesome it was to see the Cleveland Cavaliers win an NBA Championship because of what it meant for the fans and that he would like to see this happen in Cincinnati. Hill had a down second season in terms of yards per carry and we did not see him break as many tackles and take over games like he did in 2014 but he is still young and has more rushing touchdowns (20) than any other back over the past 2 years. I think Hill, along with the newly extended Giovani Bernard, will be a force for the Bengals in 2016 behind one of the best offensive lines in the league; and with Hill needing a bounce back season I am really looking forward to seeing what he does this year.
3. Defensive upgrades = a dominant Bengals defense.
With the exception of maybe the safety position and defensive end I really think that the Bengals have upgraded all other defensive positions on the team. All defensive starters, besides safety Reggie Nelson, are back for the Bengals in 2016 season and I think overall this defense could be one of the best Bengals defenses of all time. The strongest group in my opinion is the interior of the defensive line as Geno Atkins proved last year that he is back to his All-Pro form, Domata Peko is aging but still fairly solid and then there is a boatload of depth behind those 2 guys in Pat Sims, Brandon Thompson, Andrew Billings, Marcus Hardison, and DeShawn Williams. Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson are both returning at defensive end but the loss of Wallace Gilberry could hurt the pass rush rotation if Margus Hunt and Will Clarke do not step up with more production this year. The biggest free agent signing for the team thus far has been the signing of veteran LB Karlos Dansby who was with the Browns last season. Dansby is 34 years old but has still been very productive and should be the best cover linebacker in the group and is definitely an upgrade over Emmanuel Lamur and A.J. Hawk who are no longer on the team. I also like what I have heard on Nick Vigil who was drafted in the 3rd round of the NFL draft, mix in Vontaze Burfict, who will be missing the first 3 games of the season, Vinny Rey, Rey Maualuga, Paul Dawson and Marquis Flowers and the linebacker position looks even better than last year in my opinion. The Bengals added another corner in the 1st round of the draft this year as well in William Jackson III and they should have the luxury of bringing him along slowly with Adam Jones returning off a Pro Bowl season and Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard coming in with a lot to prove. Josh Shaw also looked solid in limited time last season and the Bengals are still talking with Leon Hall about a possible return. All of these upgrades and additions to the defense lead me to think that this years defense can at the very least repeat what they did last season in allowing the fewest points of any team in the AFC.