Four straight playoff berths. Four straight first-round defeats. The Cincinnati Bengals are the first team in NFL history to lose in the opening round of the playoffs in four consecutive seasons. With 40 wins in the past four years and a roster that remains mostly intact, Cincinnati should find its way back to the AFC playoffs. Can the Bengals finally win a game in the postseason? Perhaps but a run to the championship game is unlikely according sportsbooks who have listed the Bengals as 33/1 longshots in NFL odds to win the Super Bowl, 16/1 underdogs to win the AFC Conference and +220 to win the AFC North.
Quarterback Andy Dalton returns for his fifth season as the Cincinnati Bengals starter. He had a solid season throwing for 3,398 yards, but his touchdown-to-interception ratio (17-15) needs some work. While the former TCU star has played well in the regular season, he has been outplayed in each of the four playoff games he has started. Cincinnati will again be strong on the ground. The league’s sixth-ranked rushing offense returns Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard. The pair combined for over 1,800 yards rushing in 2014.
The running game will help to open up one of the league’s underrated stars, wide receiver A.J. Green. Green had 69 receptions for 1,041 yards and six touchdowns last year. The Bengals did lost tight end Jermaine Gresham, but Mohammed Sanu (56 rec., 790 yds.) returns to help stretch defenses. Head coach Marvin Lewis needed to upgrade the defense and acquired former Green Bay linebacker A.J. Hawk and former Bengal DE Michael Johnson to shore up the front seven. Cincinnati finished an uncharacteristic 22nd in the NFL in total defense in 2014. If LB Vontaze Burfict can return from injury – he played in just five games last season – the Bengals defense should be good enough to earn a fifth straight playoff berth and possibly a 2015 AFC North title.
The addition of Hawk reunites him with Cincinnati kicker Mike Nugent. The two were high school teammates at Centreville HS in Ohio, then college teammates at Ohio State, where they won a national championship in 2002. Lewis hopes that the pair can help the Bengals get over the hump in the postseason. Cincinnati has most of the recipe for success this season despite NFL odds for regular season wins listing the team at just 8½ OVER (-125). A strong running game with Hill and Bernard and an able QB in Dalton. What they will need to add is a strong defense that can stop the run and create turnovers.
Bengals Update (9/11/15): Cincinnati are now +5000 favorites in Super Bowl predictions, +2000 to win the AFC Conference and +200 to win the AFC North.