5 Bold Predictions for the Bengals in 2014
Can the Bengals top the defending champion Broncos for the AFC’s top seed in the playoffs? Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
The Bengals Finish as the AFC’s Top Seed
Since the Bengals began their new era of football in 2011, they have improved their record with each passing year: 9-7 in 2011, 10-6 in 2012, and 11-5 in 2013. There’s no doubt that they will face a more difficult schedule this year compared to 2013, but the Bengals continue to mature and acquire better players year in and year out. They will face each of last year’s AFC division winners while also facing the AFC and NFC south as a whole (to go along with their divisional games). It’s because of this that many NFL analysts feel the Bengals may take a step backwards this year. I believe the Benfals are built for the challenge.
The AFC North as a whole has gotten better over the past year, but each of the Bengals’ three divisional opponents have also had their share of off-season issues that could have an impact in the coming season. The Steelers have been reloading their team in recent years and will have to rely on the impact of several young players throughout the year because of it. They experienced some legal issues recently, stemming from the arrests of running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, which certainly won’t help the upcoming season. The Ravens experienced several legal issues themselves and will be without running back Ray Rice when they meet the Bengals in Baltimore to start the season. The Browns will be without wide receiver Josh Gordon for the year, which devastates their offense and probably sets this team up for another rebuilding year. If the Bengals can steal a week one win in Baltimore, they could likely sweep the division this year. The Bengals will then have the opportunity to beat each reigning division champion and possibly gain the all-important head-to-head tiebreaker in the process.
If the Bengals sweep their division and go undefeated at home (an achievement they accomplished during last year’s regular season) that would give them 11 wins; they would need to beat the Broncos at home, but the Bengals proved themselves capable of topping great quarterbacks last year by defeating Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. The Bengals would then have five road games remaining: at New England, New Orleans, Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, and Houston. Of note, the Bengals were able to defeat both the Colts and Patriots in 2013, albeit at home, but nonetheless. If the Bengals manage to win just the games at Houston and Tampa Bay, that would give them 13 wins on the season, which is more than enough to put them right at the top of the AFC.
It won’t be the easiest road and it’s hard to predict any team will win 13 of 16 games, but the Bengals possess a defense that puts them in a position to win any game, and an offense that should be much improved under Hue Jackson. If they win the games they’re supposed to and take advantage of a potentially vulnerable division, the Bengals may find themselves atop the AFC.