Cincinnati Bengals Schedule 2014: Win-Loss Predictions for Every Game

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVApril 24, 2014

Cincinnati Bengals Schedule 2014: Win-Loss Predictions for Every Game

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    The Cincinnati Bengals went 11-5 in 2013, gaining control of the AFC North and reaching the playoffs for the third consecutive year. Anyone watching closely enough would know this was not a surprising outcome for one of the most complete and well-coached teams in the NFL

    There have been a few changes since last season wrapped, with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer taking the Minnesota Vikings' head coaching job and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden moving on in the same capacity for Washington. Defensive end Michael Johnson is now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Marshall Newhouse, Andy Dalton's left tackle at TCU, has stepped in to replace Anthony Collins at the position in Cincinnati.

    So how will these changes affect their 2014 season? With the schedule announced on Wednesday, we can take an early look at how they Bengals might fare this year. Though more changes are coming—the NFL draft is rapidly approaching—the announcement does present the opportunity to make a few predictions.

    Here is an in-depth look at the Bengals' 2014 schedule and how the season might play out for the defending AFC North champs.

Week 1: Bengals at Baltimore Ravens

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 1:00 p.m. ET

    Network: CBS

    One of the Bengals' three overtime contests last season came in Baltimore against the Ravens and ended in a 20-17 loss. The Ravens dominated until the fourth quarter, when the Bengals came back to tie the game. A Justin Tucker field goal in overtime sealed the win for the Ravens.

    This game in Baltimore to open the season could be equally as close. Though the Bengals have a better roster on paper, going into the Ravens' home territory as a divisional rival is a tough task. They have the talent to win, but the Bengals' recent track record on the road—all five of their 2013 losses were away contests—could point to another defeat in Baltimore.

    Both Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton can be erratic, responding poorly to pressure. The more comfortable of the two will be the key to winning this game, and because of Dalton's struggles on the road, that appears to be Flacco. 

    A lack of comfort led to Dalton throwing three costly interceptions against the Ravens last year. While Flacco threw two of his own, they weren't ultimately as backbreaking. The Bengals aren't going to be blown out in Baltimore, but much like last year, failures in execution will put them in a hole from which they won't be able to completely emerge.

    Prediction: Ravens, 21-17

Week 2: Bengals vs. Atlanta Falcons

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 1:00 p.m. ET

    Network: CBS

    After a season that ended one play shy of reaching the Super Bowl, nobody saw the Atlanta Falcons' 2013 collapse coming. In fact, the Falcons' lack of depth to cope with the rash of injuries many of their key players suffered is the main culprit to their disappointing 4-12 record last season.

    While the Falcons have certainly learned from their mistakes, their effects might not be completely wiped out in 2014. The real test for the team is how it fares on the road, especially against a team without depth or talent issues like the Cincinnati Bengals.

    The Falcons boast a quarterback-wide receiver tandem in Matt Ryan and Julio Jones that is quite similar to the Bengals' Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, but that's where the similarities mostly stop. The Bengals' running backs tandem of Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis trumps that of the Falcons, and the rest of their receivers are also superior.

    Where the Bengals really shine is at offensive line and on defense, and these two advantages will be the major reason they defeat the Falcons in Week 2. The Falcons just won't be able to keep up, battered as they'll be by Cincinnati's defensive front.

    Prediction: Bengals, 24-16

Week 3: Bengals vs. Tennessee Titans

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    Kickoff Time: 1:00 p.m.

    Network: CBS

    The Tennessee Titans were a bit underwhelming in 2013, ending the year with a 7-9 record and ranking 22nd in yards, 19th in points and 16th in points allowed. They are hoping new head coach Ken Whisenhunt can provide a spark and make the team a playoff contender yet again.

    Their defense should be improved after signing linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Shaun Phillips. However, the offense is still a question mark. Quarterback Jake Locker will be under a lot of pressure to prove he can be a franchise player, and he'll have to do so with young receivers like Kendall Wright and elder statesman Nate Washington. 

    The Bengals, on the other hand, are a more stable and established team on both sides of the ball. This level of experience and maturity should help guide the team to a home victory over the Titans in Week 3. 

    The Titans just don't have enough firepower on offense to match the Bengals, even if their defense does find some success against a slightly reworked Cincinnati offensive line. The playmaking scales tip greatly in the Bengals' favor and a home-field advantage doesn't hurt, either.

    Prediction: Bengals, 34-17

Week 5: Bengals at New England Patriots

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    Tom Uhlman

    Kickoff Time: 8:30 p.m. ET (Sunday Night Football)

    Network: NBC

    The Cincinnati Bengals did something almost unthinkable when they hosted the New England Patriots in Week 5 last season: They held them to just six points. Two field goals and no touchdowns for a team led by quarterback Tom Brady? Indeed, the Bengals did it and won, 17-6.

    This year, the Bengals and Patriots meet again, in Week 5. This time, it will take place in Foxboro, where the Patriots scored an average of 31.8 points last season, compared to 24.1 on the road. The Bengals may not be able to keep the Patriots from scoring a touchdown this year, but that doesn't mean they cannot win.

    For the Bengals to remain postseason contenders, they need to do more than just dominate most of their home matchups—they need to win on the road, against quality opponents. Defeating the Patriots on Sunday Night Football would send quite the message to the entire league and the rest of the AFC North, that the Bengals are truly formidable.

    Yes, the Patriots have Brady, they have cornerback Darrelle Revis and the team boasted a top-10 run game last year. But the Bengals can certainly rattle Brady, who becomes just as mistake-prone as Andy Dalton when under pressure—he completed only 46.6 percent of his passes when under pressure last year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    Revis will be on his island, neutralizing the threat of Bengals receiver A.J. Green. However, Dalton has other targets like Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert who can also make plays. And the Patriots may not have an answer on defense for the versatile Bernard.

    Every good NFL team has at least one statement win per season. For the Bengals, coming off their bye, their victorious trip to New England will be it.

    Prediction: Bengals, 30-24

Week 6: Bengals vs. Carolina Panthers

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 1:00 p.m.

    Network: FOX

    The Carolina Panthers turned the corner in 2013, reaching the playoffs and winning the NFC South with a 12-4 record. While their offense certainly contributed to their success, it was their defense that really made the biggest impact.

    The Panthers allowed the second-fewest points per game in 2013, at 15.1. They also gave up the second-fewest yards, at 4,820, and led the league in sacks, with 60. This caliber of defense is unfamiliar to the Bengals, and it's going to be an uphill battle.

    It's guaranteed that the Panthers will be keying in on the Bengals quarterback. And with Dalton completing just 38.5 percent of his pressured passes last year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), it could be a long day. He won't have time to pass the ball, and Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis won't find much room to run, either.

    Home-field advantage won't be able to save the Bengals from the Panthers' fierce defense. The only saving grace is that the Panthers may not have as productive an offense now that they are down two key receivers in Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell. This might not matter, however, if the Bengals have little luck moving the ball. 

    Prediction: Panthers, 17-6

Week 7: Bengals at Indianapolis Colts

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    John Grieshop/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 1:00 p.m. ET

    Network: CBS

    The Indianapolis Colts were AFC South champions in 2013, and they beat the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and the Kansas City Chiefs along the way. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck engineered late game-winning drive after game-winning drive, managing to keep his cool even after losing star receiver Reggie Wayne to a knee injury and playing behind a sub-par offensive line.

    With a healthy Wayne, a better offensive line and a more reliable run game, the Colts offense should be even better in 2014. The defense isn't as big of a liability as it looks on first glance—it ranked just 20th in yards allowed last year, yes, but it also ranked ninth in points allowed. This is a good team that is only getting better each season.

    The Bengals did defeat the Colts last year, winning 42-28 in Cincinnati. The win was impressive, especially with Luck throwing four touchdowns to zero interceptions and not taking a single sack. The key was on third down—the Colts converted only two of 10 tries, while the Bengals got a first down on six of their 12.

    Cincinnati has a great defense, to be sure, but taking the same show on the road will be difficult. The Colts know how important a good offensive line is to their quarterback's success. With the line improved in 2014 and the defense remaining stingy where points are concerned, the Bengals aren't going to get the better of the Colts for a second straight year.

    Prediction: Colts, 30-20

Week 8: Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 1:00 p.m. ET

    Network: CBS

    The Baltimore Ravens have a major weakness the Cincinnati Bengals can exploit in Week 8—the offensive line. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked a career-high 48 times last year and the run game was the worst it has been in franchise history.

    Though the line has already improved with the addition of center Jeremy Zuttah, there are reasons to believe it won't be good enough to avoid the Bengals pass rush, led by a healthy Geno Atkins. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Flacco saw a pass rush on 35.6 percent of his dropbacks last year and completed on 48.1 percent of his pressured passes. If the Bengals can get him out of his rhythm, they can dominate the game. 

    Even with tight end Dennis Pitta on the field, the Bengals were able to hold the Ravens to 175 passing yards when they hosted the team last year and won, 34-17. Where the Ravens were once a team defined by its defense and run game, they are now more dependent on Flacco. By getting past Baltimore's shaky offensive line, they can stop Flacco. And stopping Flacco is how to beat the Ravens.

    Prediction: Bengals, 30-20

Week 9: Bengals vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Kickoff Time: 1:00 p.m. ET

    Network: CBS

    The Jacksonville Jaguars went 4-12 last year, but their offseason moves thus far point to an improvement for 2014. But the improvement will need to be staggering if they are to come into Cincinnati this season and get the better of the Bengals.

    The Jaguars averaged a league-worst 15.4 points per game last year, while the Bengals ranked seventh with an average of 25.9 points per game. The Bengals offense would have to regress significantly while their defense, which gave up only 19.5 points per game on average in 2013, would have to implode. Either that, or the Jaguars offense would have to take an almost unprecedented leap forward.

    There is always the possibility the Bengals get caught by the Jaguars because they misjudged their opponent and thought they could coast to an easy win. The Jaguars could also prove highly aggressive on defense this year, which is like Kryptonite for Dalton.

    However, the Bengals have had a lot of success in recent years defending their home turf. The Jaguars don't seem like a dangerous road team this year despite their improvement. Therefore, it doesn't appear the Bengals will suffer a loss in Week 9.

    Prediction: Bengals, 30-14 

Week 10: Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns

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    Kickoff Time: 8:25 p.m. ET

    Network: NFL Network

    Though the Cleveland Browns went 4-12 last season, the Bengals weren't able to sweep their in-state rivals. The Browns defeated the Bengals in Cleveland in Week 4, 17-6, but the Bengals did exact revenge on their home turf later in the year, winning 41-20.

    The Browns could very well be a much-improved team in 2014. New head coach Mike Pettine brought Jim O'Neil with him from the Buffalo Bills to be the Browns' defensive coordinator, and former offensive coordinator Norv Turner has given way to Kyle Shanahan.

    Still, they have question marks that remain in the run game, despite signing free agent Ben Tate, as well as at quarterback. When they head to Cincinnati in Week 10 it could be Brian Hoyer under center or someone else. But who that player is might not weigh too heavily on how this game plays out.

    In 2013, the Bengals never lost at home. They are still a formidable threat in both the passing and run game, especially with Jackson taking over play-calling duties, and the defense should still be intimidating despite the loss of Johnson. A Thursday night game also makes things difficult for the visiting Browns.

    It's not that the Browns lack for playmakers—they do have wide receiver Josh Gordon, after all, as well as standouts on defense like cornerback Joe Haden and newly signed safety Donte Whitner—it's just that the Bengals have both playmakers and proven on-field execution. It's going to be difficult for any team to come into Cincinnati and win in 2014. 

    Prediction: Bengals, 31-13

Week 11: Bengals at New Orleans Saints

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    Kickoff Time: 1:00 p.m. ET

    Network: CBS

    Like the Bengals, the New Orleans Saints were undefeated at home last season. The Superdome is truly a hostile environment for visiting teams. Combine that with a Saints squad that is singularly focused on regaining the NFC South crown and returning to the Super Bowl, and the Bengals could be in for a bad day come Week 11.

    Saints quarterback Drew Brees has thrown for over 5,000 yards in each of the last three seasons. He threw 39 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions and he was sacked on just 5.4 percent of his drop-backs last year. Clearly, the key to stopping the Saints is to stop Brees. However, Brees never threw for fewer than 295 yards at home in 2013. 

    The other problem for the Bengals will be New Orleans' defense. Under Rob Ryan last year, the Saints ranked fourth in yards per game allowed and fourth in points allowed, while sacking opposing quarterbacks 49 times. If the Bengals find themselves behind the Saints early, trying to play catch-up by passing the ball may not come all that easily for Dalton.

    The Saints are one of the most explosive teams in the NFL on both sides of the ball, and the clock may be running out on Brees' chance to reach another Super Bowl. The combination of talent and desperation the Bengals will face in New Orleans could be too much for them to handle.

    Prediction: Saints, 31-20

Week 12: Bengals at Houston Texans

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 1:00 p.m. ET

    Network: CBS

    Much like the Atlanta Falcons, the Houston Texans had an unexpectedly bad 2013 season. Like the Falcons, injuries to key players and a lack of viable depth led them to the bottom of the league standings. It also didn't help that starting quarterback Matt Schaub threw 14 interceptions, many of them pick-sixes.

    This year, the Texans have the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, a new head coach in Bill O'Brien and a quarterback question to answer now that Schaub is with the Oakland Raiders.

    As long as the roster is healthier than it was last year, there's reason to believe the Texans will bounce back. But with so many changes, it may take more than one offseason for Houston to return to being the playoff-caliber team it was in 2011 and 2012.

    The Bengals and Texans have a history, with two of the three playoff losses the Bengals have suffered over the last three years coming courtesy of Houston. This won't be a vengeance meeting, per se, but surely the Bengals will have those particular losses on their mind in Week 12.

    The Texans don't need to completely rebuild this offseason, but they do have roster holes to fill and weaknesses to try to overcome. This process can take a few months, or it can take a year. But the Texans just won't be able to match, let alone best, the Bengals when they meet in November.

    Prediction: Bengals, 24-16

Week 13: Bengals at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 1:00 p.m. ET

    Network: CBS

    The 2014 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in many ways different from the 2013 version. Head coach Greg Schiano is gone, replaced by Lovie Smith. Josh McCown is the new starting quarterback. They added defensive end Michael Johnson and left tackle Anthony Collins and swapped out cornerback Darrelle Revis for Alterraun Verner. That says nothing of what the Buccaneers may do in next month's draft.

    This makes the Buccaneers a difficult team to define at this early point in the year. Can McCown repeat the success he had filling in for Jay Cutler in Chicago last year, with his 13 touchdowns and one interception? Vincent Jackson has some Brandon Marshall-like qualities, but McCown will have to learn a new offense and build chemistry with his receivers, running backs and linemen.

    With so many new faces from general manager on down, it may take more than 13 weeks for the Buccaneers to come together as a team. The Bengals, on the other hand, have a well-established core of starters who are familiar with each other and who know how to win. This will give them the edge over Tampa Bay, even late in the year and on the road.

    Prediction: Bengals, 17-10

Week 14: Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 1:00 p.m. ET

    Network: CBS

    Even though the Bengals were an impressive 8-0 at home last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been a problem when they come to town. Of the two teams' last 15 meetings in Cincinnati, the Steelers have emerged victorious 12 times. 

    So, which trend wins out in 2014? Will the Bengals best the Steelers in Cincinnati as they did last year, or will the Steelers return to dominating their AFC North rivals on their home turf as they have done over the past 14 years?

    The Bengals are a good team, without a doubt. Their 11-5 record in 2013 and three straight postseason appearances are testaments to that fact. But the Steelers coming to town in Week 14 might cause them a bit of trouble. 

    Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is more consistent at his position than his Bengals counterpart, and that will make all the difference in this matchup. With an improved offensive line this year, Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell should have a good performance, as well. 

    It's about execution and making the fewest mistakes, something the Bengals have struggled with at home against the Steelers for over a decade. The Bengals may not go undefeated in Cincinnati this year.

    Prediction: Steelers, 17-14

Week 15: Bengals at Cleveland Browns

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 1:00 p.m. ET

    Network: CBS

    While the Bengals were perfect at home last year, they were 3-5 on the road, with one of those losses coming against the Cleveland Browns. The same could be the case this year in the sense that the Bengals could find themselves caught by the Browns when they head to Cleveland in Week 15.

    There are a few clear keys on how to beat the Bengals, and they mostly involve freezing their offense rather than outsmarting their defense.

    First is to pressure Dalton and keep him from finding a rhythm. As mentioned in a previous slide, Dalton completed only 38.5 percent of his pressured passes last year, though he only saw pressure on 25.2 percent of his dropbacks. If the Browns can dial up the pressure, they can easily dial down Dalton's accuracy.

    Second is to shut down wide receiver A.J. Green. When the Bengals fell to Cleveland last year, Green caught only seven of 15 targets for 51 yards and no touchdowns. Browns cornerback Joe Haden—along with some safety help—could force a repeat performance this year.

    Third, the Browns will have to keep control of Bernard in the running game. Bernard may have only had 16 total touches netting the Bengals just 75 yards when the two teams met in Cleveland in 2013, but he's set to do big things in 2014. He's a model Hue Jackson running back in that he can block, run and catch, and that versatility could take advantage of any weaknesses in Cleveland's defense.

    The Browns managed to do all of these things and with a more aggressive defensive plan in 2014, the Bengals could be on their way to suffering the same fate.

    Prediction: Browns, 14-6

Week 16: Bengals vs. Denver Broncos

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 8:30 p.m. ET (Monday Night Football)

    Network: ESPN

    The Bengals have an opportunity to make a major statement when the AFC champion Denver Broncos come to town in front of a national audience in Week 16. A home win against the Peyton Manning-led offensive powerhouse can help establish the Bengals as a serious Super Bowl contender.

    However, it will take a near-flawless performance from the Bengals for that to happen. The Broncos had one of the most productive offenses in NFL history last year, averaging 454.8 yards and 36.4 points per game. Though bested by the Seattle Seahawks' league-leading defense in the Super Bowl, the Broncos remain a threat to score multiple touchdowns per game.

    They also made some necessary improvements to the defense in order to remain competitive, signing DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward in free agency. This eye toward defense will likely continue through next month's draft. 

    The Bengals shined on offense on multiple occasions in 2013, scoring 30 or more points six times and racking up over 300 yards in 12 of their 16 regular-season games. They also held the high-scoring New England Patriots to just six points and outlasted the likes of the Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. It's not as though they cannot hold their own against the Broncos.

    But should this game become a shootout, Manning has the edge over Andy Dalton. In clutch, late-game situations, he's a master at pulling out a win for his team.

    Prediction: Broncos, 41-35

Week 17: Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time: 1:00 p.m. ET

    Network: CBS

    In Week 17, the Bengals travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. Last year, they lost this meeting, 30-20, but this year they can avoid the same fate by staying true to who they are—a versatile team with impressive depth.

    The Bengals dug themselves a hole in last year's contest in Pittsburgh, giving up 21 points in the first quarter and never catching up. The Steelers were still in the playoff picture when they met in Week 15, but the Bengals seemed to underestimate them. That won't be the case this year.

    The Bengals are on the hunt to not only return to the postseason for the fourth consecutive season but to finally win a playoff game. They won't be taking any divisional opponents lightly, no matter when they meet. The key here will be to force the Steelers offense into becoming one-dimensional, either by shutting down the passing game or by keeping the run game under control.

    Then, the Bengals have to simply make plays on offense themselves. Cincinnati has enough playmakers to confound Pittsburgh's defense. They can stretch the field thanks to Green, be successful in the shorter passing game with the two-tight end punch of Eifert and Jermaine Gresham and can run the ball both inside and outside with Bernard and Green-Ellis.

    Pittsburgh's defense will likely be younger and less experienced in 2014 than it has been in years past, giving the Bengals an opening to close out the season with a road win.

    Prediction: Bengals, 31-21