Fantasy Team Previews: Cincinnati Bengals
Critical Schedule Stretch:
Dec. 7 Pittsburgh Steelers 1:00p
Dec. 14 at Cleveland Browns 1:00p
Dec. 22 Denver Broncos (Mon) 8:30p
Dec. 28 at Pittsburgh Steelers 1:00p
The Bengals offense is loaded with possibilities and possible fantasy studs for the 2014 season. There are however, a few things to remember. the Bengals’ offensive coordinator who turned Andy Dalton into a league-leading fantasy quarterback and the Bengals’ defensive coordinator who turned the Bengals into a top-five defense and held the opposition to 19 points-per-game are both gone.
Hugh Jackson takes over on offense for Jay Gruden and he inherits a QB whose first three seasons rank among the best in NFL history. His 11,360 passing yards and his 80 touchdowns in his first three seasons are third most in NFL history behind all-time greats Dan Marino and Peyton Manning. The Red Headed Rifle’s overall numbers aren’t far off from Manning’s first three years either. With 49 more attempts, Manning had five more touchdown passes and almost 1,000 more yards, but Dalton threw nine fewer interceptions and had a much better win percentage (.625 to .542).
His primary target, AJ Green, saw over 32 percent of Dalton’s red zone targets, fourth-most in the NFL and the reason Green is a solid second round selection. Green has help in Marvin Jones and TE’s Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert. However, the Bengals would like to see more production from their TE position. LY Giovani Bernard had 1,209 yards from scrimmage, second most by a rookie in team history and scored 8 TD’s. Cincy ranked 10 in total offense last season and could very well improve upon that number in 2014.
The Bengals defense has finished in the top seven three years in a row, which is no coincidence that is also their current playoff streak. Cincy finished third overall and fifth in scoring defense. They have the potential to be there again but could also regress if they cannot replace Michael Johnson or get improvement from DE Margus Hunt. LB Vonte Burfict is a beast and an aging secondary gets a boost, as the best CB in the draft fell to Cincinnati in Michigan States Darqueze Dennard, whom the Bengals selected at No.24.
The defensive line accounted for nearly 30 of the 43 sacks the Bengals defense produced last season. Cincy also credited its defenders with 118 total pass breakups (official NFL stats gave the Bengals 96 breakups, tied with Philadelphia for the fifth most in the league). Defensive backs in coverage will get the majority of those breakups but the defensive line knocked down 25 passes, including 10 by Carlos Dunlap and nine by Johnson.
Despite having what could be deemed a scary offense, Bengals kicker Mike Nugent is not. He’s scored more than 110 points once in his career. Nugent, who attended Ohio State, finished 24th in fantasy points scored among fellow kickers. He connected on 18-22 field goals with four from behind 50 yards. The Bengals are equally unimpressive in the return game. WR Brandon Tate will likely carry return duties and he hasn’t scored a TD in three seasons.
Best Fantasy Player:
AJ Green: There’s some worry about how Hue Jackson’s love for running the football will impact Green’s value, DON’T BE WORRIED! Green added six pounds to 214, mostly in the upper body, reports the team’s website. The three-time Pro Bowler said he wants to get more physical so he can better beat coverage at the line of scrimmage. That could be scary to watch. The 6-4 Green set career highs with 98 catches for 1,426 yards last season and matched his career best with 11 touchdowns.
The Bengals’ first seven games will be a challenge as Marvin Lewis’ squad gets road games with Baltimore, New England, and Indianapolis to go with home tilts against Atlanta, Tennessee, Carolina and a rematch with the Ravens. The home games are winnable and an upset or two is needed if Cincinnati wants to take control of the AFC North early in the year. Otherwise, the pressure will be on Cincy to win key swings games late in the year (at New Orleans, at Houston, Denver and two with the Steelers). This is a nasty schedule that features the best two teams in the AFC as swing opponents and at least four very difficult divisional games. The only comfort is a bye week positioned in the middle of the early seven-game gauntlet and a soft(er) middle portion of the slate.