The Cincinnati Bengals’ season came to an end just five days ago, but it’s not too early to look ahead to next season.
We know who the Bengals will play and where, so the only question left to be answered is when.
While the dates of the games can have an effect on how Cincinnati fares, it doesn’t mean we can’t break down this preliminary schedule and get an early idea on what kind of season the Bengals will have.
Let’s look at each of the Bengals’ opponents, in alphabetical order, and give an early prediction on the outcome.
A rule of thumb that I have always used when predicting games is that unless there is a distinct talent difference between the two teams, assume splits in division games. That rule would have worked well this year, as the Bengals split with all three teams and went 3-3.
The real question is whether Cincinnati can continue its recent rising trend over the past few seasons to not only catch, but pass the Ravens.
The Bengals may very well win the division, but when it comes to head-to-head, I’m still picking a split.
Prediction: Win and Loss
Buffalo was one of those teams that was trending up heading into this past season, only to have the kind of year that ends with the coach fired. Now, there will be a new coach and possibly a new quarterback in place.
The Bills still have C.J. Spiller, one of the most exciting backs in the league, but it’s hard to pick against the Bengals in this one. The biggest question is whether the game will be played early in the season or late in the harsh Buffalo winter. Heck, it might even be in Toronto. Regardless, I’m going with Cincinnati.
The Bears underachieved somewhat in 2012, and as a result, Lovie Smith lost his job. But Chicago is hardly a rebuilding franchise and should be a contender next season.
This game is hard to predict because the Bears have several moves that need to be made to shore up deficiencies on the offensive line. And like Buffalo, the time of year could play a factor. But for now, I’m picking Cincinnati.
Unlike Baltimore, I’m inclined to go with a Bengal sweep of their Ohio rivals, despite the fact that they split this past season. The main reason why is that the Browns don’t appear to have an idea what they are doing at the moment.
Cleveland will have a new coach and a general manager, and who knows, it may even have a new quarterback. Until we see how the situation plays out, I’m going with a Bengal sweep.
Prediction: Win and Win
This might be the hardest game for me to pick. On one hand, the Detroit Lions are one of the most talented teams in the league, with at least six legitimate All-Pros on the roster. On the other hand, they went a surprising 4-12 this past season.
For now, I’m going to err on the side of caution and say that the Lions’ 2012 season was a fluke. I believe with a top-flight quarterback, arguably the best receiver in the league and a possibly dominate defense, the Lions will be back on top.
This game is in Detroit and could even be the Thanksgiving game. As a result, I’m picking the Lions.
The Bengals will play five playoff teams in 2013, but by a quirk of the schedule, they get all five at home (and one on the road counting Baltimore). This means that Cincinnati could very well host the Super Bowl champion for the second year in a row.
Green Bay has one of the most explosive offenses in the league, but has struggled with defense in recent years. I expect that the Packers will try to shore up that side of the ball in the offseason. Either way, Green Bay appears to be the superior team.
The Indianapolis Colts were the feel-good team of the season after they rallied from a two-win season in 2011 to make the playoffs in 2012 with a rookie quarterback and their coach battling leukemia.
In his sophomore season, Andrew Luck should be even better, but the league will also have a full season’s worth of tape to work with. These Bengals should be better as well, and with the game at home, I’m picking Cincinnati.
The loss to Miami this season still sends shivers down Bengals’ fans’ spines. What if Cincinnati had won that game? The Bengals could have finished 11-5, won the division and hosted Indianapolis in the opening round rather than traveling to Miami.
Regardless, I feel that Cincinnati is the superior team and should win the game. If it is scheduled for early September, when Miami still feels like the Amazon, I may change my mind, but for now, I’m sticking with the Bengals.
Adrian Peterson had an unbelievable season this past year and nearly broke the rushing record nine months after tearing his ACL. More importantly, the Vikings made the playoffs in an ultra-competitive NFC.
But I’m just not sold on them. I don’t believe Christian Ponder is a big-time quarterback, and the Vikings struggled away from home. I’m picking Cincinnati.
Like Green Bay, the New England Patriots could very well come into Paul Brown Stadium next season as the defending Super Bowl champions. But even if the Patriots don’t win the Super Bowl, they will still be one of the league’s elite teams.
The Bengals have just not fared well against New England, and even at home, I don’t expect this to change.
Even though the Bengals struggled with the Jets in recent years, I just can’t see them doing so next year. Cincinnati just looks like the better team.
Pittsburgh and Cincinnati have maybe the best one-sided rivalry in football. By one-sided, I mean that it is a rivalry for the Bengals, not so much for the Steelers.
The two teams appear to be headed in different directions, but the Steelers are hardly headed to the bottom. Instead, I expect Pittsburgh to reload in the offseason, fix its holes and be a contender again next year.
But as a division foe, I’m going with a split.
Prediction: Win and Loss
In the past, I have tended to pick against the Bengals with this game in beautiful San Diego (my pick for the best city in America). But Cincinnati went to SoCal and won this season, and I don’t see why the Bengals won’t do the same next season.