After making the playoffs in five straight seasons leading to losses in the Wild Card game, the Bengals missed the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. In 2017, Cinci had the worst offense in the NFL in yards gain while fading to 26th in points scored (290). The scored 35 points fewer than 2016 (325) and 129 less than 2015 (419). Marvin Lewis returns for his 16th season as head coach. He has a 125-112-3 record with seven playoff appearances, which all resulted in a loss.
The Bengals promoted Bill Lazor from quarterback’s coach to offensive coordinator after the second game in 2017. He held the same position for the Dolphins in 2014 and 2015. Bill has 11 seasons of NFL experience with most years spent coaching the QB position. Lazor will revamp in the offense, and there was a report about him studying the success of the Rams in 2017. The Bengals had one of the worst offensive lines in the league last year.
The defense slipped to 18th in yards allowed and 16th in points allowed (349). The Bengals signed Teryl Austin as defensive coordinator after holding the same positions for the Lions over the last four seasons. Austin has 14 seasons of experience in the NFL.
In the offseason, Cinci flipped backup quarterbacks. They signed Matt Barkley and released A.J. McCarron.
RB Jeremy Hill signed with the Patriots after falling out of favor in 2017. Hill scored 30 TDs in his first 47 NFL games by age 23. His season ended last November with an ankle injury that required surgery.
OT Andre Smith struggled for the third straight year, which led to him becoming a free agent and signing with the Cardinals. Smith played his best ball from 2011 to 2013 when graded as an asset on the offensive line. C Russell Bodine won’t be hard to replace after failing to be a productive player in three of his four seasons in the NFL.
DE Chris Smith jumped to division rival Cleveland Browns in the offseason. Smith had three sacks as a rotational player in 2017.
Cinci signed LB Preston Brown and DT Chris Baker improve their defense. Brown had 283 tackles over the last two seasons with the Bills while being a slight negative in run support and coverage. Baker played at a high level in 2015 and 2016 for the Redskins where he added value against the run with 9.5 combined sacks. His game stepped back in 2017 in all areas for the Buccaneers.
With their first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Bengals quickly addressed one of their weakness on the offensive line with C Billy Price. He plays with power and an aggressive first step. Price will upgrade the run blocking while needing to let the game come to him in pass protection. His willingness to attack can be a negative when it allows him to lose leverage at the point of attack by being out of positions to make a winning block. Billy is an excellent piece to the reconstruction of the offensive line.
The next three selections in the second and third round were dictated toward the defense – S Jessie Bates, DE Sam Hubbard, and LB Malik Jefferson.
Bates has the speed and short area quickness to handle his responsibilities in coverage. He plays with an attacking style that will perform well when moving toward the line of scrimmage. Jessie can struggle in the open field when asked to change direction and make tackles. His ball skills grade well while owning the vision need to have success at safety in the NFL.
The Bengals stayed in the state again with DE Sam Hubbard. He played his college ball at Ohio State along with C Billy Price. Hubbard plays with awareness the line of scrimmage, which helps offset his lack of impact athleticism. He’ll hold his own against the run while lacking the speed or power to offer impact value attacking the QB. Sam is more of a steady piece to the puzzle on defense who will control his small part of real estate on the field. His ability to work hard on every plays ups his playable value.
Jefferson looks the part of starting linebacker in the NFL with his speed and power, but his lack of vision and anticipation leave him a step behind the best players in the game at his position. In college, his speed made up for his slow reaction time. Getting better as a player, but he needs to see things before they happen to be a factor in the NFL.
RB Mark Walton was the choice in the fourth round. He projects as a player with value on early downs and in the passing game. An ankle injury in 2017 led to only five games played, and his draft value to slide. Walton can make a defender miss, but he lacks the power to be a high volume north/south runner. Mark needs more strength and less shake and back to before effective when trying to break through the line of scrimmage in the NFL. Walton should handle his pass blocking assignments early in his career.
With three picks in the fifth round, Cinci was back trying to add talent to their defense with CB Davontae Harris, DT Andrew Brown, and CB Darius Phillips.
Harris has a nice combination of speed and strength. His short area quickness can’t match the top CBs or WRs in the game. His future may come at safety where his skill set will play better in centerfield. Davontae needs to improve reads as a run defender with a better feel for what a QB is trying to do to beat him.
Brown looks the part of NFL lineman with his first step and quickness off the snap, but his lack of foot speed leads to him not finishing his attack. He offers no upside rushing the QB, but he can disrupt the timing of run plays. His energy and fight help his playability on early downs.
Phillips projects as slot CB option due to his lack of size (5’10” and 193 Lbs.). He has playmaking ability with enough quickness to handle the first ten yards of the line of scrimmage. Darius will be a liability in the deep passing where he’ll try to cheat (hold or grab) to hold his man at bay. Phillips will struggle to add value in run support.
Cinci shifted back to offense in the seventh round. They added QB Logan Woodside, G Rob Taylor, and WR Auden Tate.
Woodside shined in his junior season at Toledo when he passed for 4,129 yards with 45 TDs and nine Ints. He lacks NFL size (6’1” and 213 Lbs.) and arm strength, but he has accuracy on his side even with work needed on his mechanics to speed up his delivery.
Taylor is a power offensive lineman who will offer the most upside as a run blocker. He needs to work harder to develop the lower part of his body to improve his base while losing some of his weight in the upper half. Rob needs a better plan when faced with oncoming rushers and commit to the game if he wants to stay in the NFL.
Tate is a big WR (6’5” and 228 Lbs.) with slow foot speed (4.68 forty). His route running to below par with a slow release. Auden’s best value will come on jump balls in the end zone. Only a project in the NFL while struggling to stay healthy and earn a full time starting job in college.
The Bengals ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing yards (1,366) last season. They gained only 3.6 yards per carry with six rushing TDs. Game score led to only 23.6 runs per game. Cinci regressed as a passing team as well. They gained only 3,122 yards passing (27th) with 25 TDs and 12 Ints. Their offensive line allowed 40 sacks and 64 QB hits.
LT Cordy Glenn missed most of last season due to a foot injury. He’s missed almost a season’s worth of games (15) over the previous two years. The Bills drafted Glenn in the second round in 2012. From 2013 to 2016, Cordy was one of the better left tackles in the game. Cinci acquired Glenn in a trade in mid-March. If he can stay healthy, Cordy is a significant improvement from their 2017 option at this position.
LG Clint Boling has been a six-year starter in the NFL after Cinci added him in the fourth round in 2011. His game is about league average, but a strong season from Glenn should help his value.
C Billy Price is an instant upgrade to this offensive line. He’s a power player with an attacking style, which will be a big win for Joe Mixon in 2018. Price should develop into one of the better centers in the game. His next step is improving his base pass protection while letting attack pass rusher come to him.
RG T.J. Johnson doesn’t have much of a resume in the NFL after Cinci drafted him in the seventh round in 2014. This season the right tackle position has plenty of risk with multiple player vying for playing time. The best player on the roster without a starting job is Cedric Ogbuehi who struggled at left tackle in his three seasons in the NFL after being selected in the first round in 2015. Cinci may look to move him to another position, which would lead to a better plays finding his way to right guard. For now, this position grade well below the league average. If Ogbuehi finds his way into the start
RT Jake Fisher is trending in the wrong direction. The Bengals drafted him in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, but he continues to deliver poor results. Last year Jake missed the eight games of the season with a chest issue. Fisher has solid speed and quickness for his position with his best value being as a zone blocker in the run game. His lack of strength and technique leads to him grabbing oncoming pass rushers leading to holding penalties. Jake needs to add more bulk.
I like the talent on the left side of the offensive line, and the center position is going to be an edge in 2018. Jake Fisher needs to produce. If not, he’ll be looking for a new day job in 2019. If Ogbuehi finds his way into the starting lineup and delivers on his expected value after being drafted in the first round, Cinci would get a considerable upgrade at another position. The move that makes the most sense is sliding Fister to right guard and Ogbuehi to right tackle. At the very least, this line moves closer to league average with a healthy/rebound season from Cordy Glenn.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2017, which will work as our starting point for 2018. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2017 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2017.
2017 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.
2017 Adjustment is based on the 2017 league average and the 2017 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.
The Bengals have two games (CAR and DEN) against teams that played well against the run last year plus the Browns showed growth in this area in 2017. Cinci only has one favorable matchup for their run offense, which comes against the Chargers.
Cincinnati’s passing attack will be challenged vs. the Chargers and the Broncos. Their best edge will come Tampa Bay with Kansas City possible having risk as well.
Overall, the Bengals run and pass schedules are slight below league average.
Cinci would like to be a balanced team on offense. They struggled to run the ball in 2017 due to a weak offensive line and poor play overall on the offensive side of the ball. The Bengals do have WR talent, which may lead to more throws in 2018 with a change in offensive strategy. I thought a saw someone where that Bill Lazor was trying to implement some part of the success by the Rams’ offense in 2017 into their game plan in 2018, but I couldn’t find the article to support this information.
2018 is a big year for this coaching staff from top to bottom. Marvin Lewis can only fire his coordinators so many time before the ax falls on his head. I expect a move to league average in passing attempts this year with a much-improved run game. If the defense plays well and Cinci can holds leads late in games, the passing game won’t offer as much impact to Fantasy owners.
QB Andy Dalton – Over his seven seasons in the NFL, Dalton has a 63-44-2 record leading to the Bengals making the playoffs five times. His best years in passing TDs came in 2012 (27) and 2013 (33) while being a much better QB as far as Ints allowed over the last three years (7, 8, and 12). Andy had his second season with over 4,000 passing yards in 2016 (4,206), but he finished with fewer than 3,400 passing yards in three of his last four seasons (2015 due to an injury). His offensive line allowed 81 combined sacks over the last two year (40 and 41). He’s never attempted over 600 passes in a season because of Cinci having success running the ball well in close. His completion rate (59.4) had a huge step back in 2017 with one game with over 300 yards passing. Andy had two games with three TDs or more. This season his WR core need to make a step forward behind A.J. Green. The days of believing in Tyler Eifert at TE are getting shorter. His offensive line is improved, which will help the run game leading to more open field in the passing game. Dalton should make a push back toward 4,000 yards passing with a chance at reach 30 combined TDs if he regains his value in rushing TDs (11 combined rushing TDs from 2014 to 2016). Andy is a viable backup Fantasy QB with matchup value if John Ross develops into the player Cinci hoped he would be after drafting him in the first round in 2017. Mixon did miss two games in 2017 due to a concussion.
Other Options: Jeff Driskel, Matt Barkley, Logan Woodside
RB Joe Mixon – In his first season in the NFL at age 20, Mixon gained 913 combined yards with four TDs and 30 catches while receiving 218 touches. He only had one game with more than 15 Fantasy points in a PPR league (Week 12 vs. CLE – 165 combined yards with one TD and three catches). The Bengals gave him staring carries in Week 11 (20), Week 12 (23), and Week 17 (18). Over his last five games played, Joe gained 385 combined yards with a TD and nine catches. In 2017, Cinci’s RB rushed the ball 339 times for 1,267 yards and six TDs while receiving 79 catches for 728 yards and two more TDs on 100 targets. Mixon has three-down ability, but he did struggle in his assignments in pass protection in his rookie season. Cinci should give him about 275 touches in 2018 leading to about 1,300 combined yards with eight to ten TDs and 30+ catches with much more upside if given a higher share of the offense.
RB Giovani Bernard – I have to say Bernard came back quicker than I expected in 2017 hurting the opportunity and evaluation of Joe Mixon. Giovani played all 16 games in 2017 while averaging 9.25 touches per game. He finished with 847 combined yards with four TDs and 43 catches, which was below his opportunity and output over his first three seasons in the NFL (76.4 yards per game with 17 combined TDs and 148 catches over 45 games). When given a starting opportunity in Week 16, Gio delivered 168 combined yards with a TD and seven catches. He has 22 catches over the last four games for 151 yards on 29 targets. With no Jeremy Hill in the mix, Bernard will regain some value in 2018. I’d set his floor at 175 touches for 900+ yards with 40+ catches and a handful of TDs. He’ll see much of his action on third down while offering change of pace ability on early downs.
RB Mark Walton – Over three seasons at Miami of Florida, Walton rushed for 2,006 yards on 395 carries with 26 TDs. He caught 56 passes for 624 yards with a couple of more scores. Walton is insurance for both Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard. An injury in 2017 led to a short season and a much lower draft position. He’ll offer value as a receiver while needing to prove he can handle running between the tackles in the NFL. He runs with some wiggle at the line of scrimmage with the acceleration to challenge a defense at the second level. Walton won’t run with power on the inside with minimal yards after contact vs. defensive lineman.
Other Options: Brian Hill, Jarveon Williams, Tra Carson, Ray Lawry
WR A.J. Green – Based on targets (142), Green had the fifth best WR opportunity in the NFL in 2017. Unfortunately, his catch rate (52.4) was a career low. A.J. has over 1,000 yards receiving in six of his seven years in the NFL with his only failed year coming in 2016 (66/964/4) when he missed six games. In his career, Green averages 5.4 catches for 80.5 yards and 0.56 TDs per game or 16.9 Fantasy points. He’ll start the year at age 30, which suggests his upside days may be behind him. His long resume sets a high floor. The Bengals added some talent on the offensive line, and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor seems committed to becoming more dynamic on offense. I look for a rebound in targets and a return to double-digit TDs in 2018. Green should be a value this draft season. I expect 90+ catches for 1,300+ yards with 10+ TDs, which would beat his last four seasons.
WR John Ross – Ross missed the entire 2015 season with a torn left ACL, which came after low production in his freshman (16/208/1) and sophomore (17/371/4) seasons while showcasing some value as a runner (12/93/1). In his redshirt junior year, John offered a nice combination of short area production and home run ability. He finished with 81 catches for 1,150 yards and 17 receiving TDs plus eight rushes for 102 yards and a TD. Ross will threaten the defense with each step he takes. John can beat a defender in a blink of an eye. His biggest challenge will be overcoming physical CBs off the line of scrimmage, which will restrict his value in TDs in the red zone, but his skill set will lead to winning fades and slants at the goal line. John is a playmaker after the catch with immediate value in the return game. His next step is becoming a more efficient route runner where he needs to vary his tempo. His acceleration reminds me of Dante Hall with a much better receiving skill set. Ross had surgery to repair a torn labrum after the 2017 NFL Combine where he ran 4.22 seconds in the 40-yard dash. John is an exciting player with plenty of injuries in his career. His presence will draw the safety away from A.J. Green on many plays. After missing almost all of the 2017 season with various injuries, Ross looks ready to roll in 2018. More of flash WR with big play ability. Let’s lower his bar/opportunity to 50 catches for 750 yards with a handful of scores.
WR Tyler Boyd – Over three seasons at Pittsburgh, Boyd caught 254 passes for 3361 yards and 21 TDs. His best success came in his sophomore year (78/1261/8). His hands are his drawing card with strength in his route running. In a way, his game fits the style of a big WR who can win many jump balls. Tyler projects to be a possession receiver. He lacks deep speed, and his quickness is a step below the best WRs in the NFL. Boyd may struggle against press coverage in the NFL until he adds more upper body strength and improves his release. His overall game has much higher ceiling than LaFell. His rookie season stats (54/603/1 on 81 targets) suggested upside, but a knee injury and an issue off the field that led to a weaker role in 2017 (22/225/2 on 32 targets). Boyd should become the WR that sees the short area targets in 2018 with Brandon LaFell being phased out and Tyler Eifert continues to battle health issues. Possible 50+ catches for 600+ yards with some value in TDs.
WR Brandon LaFell – In his second season with the Bengals, LaFell caught 52 of 89 targets for 548 yards and three TDs while gaining only 10.5 yards per catch. Brandon had fewer than 60 yards receiving in 15 of his 16 games with his only playable game coming in Week 10 (6/95/1). His best two seasons came in 2014 (74/953/7) and 2016 (64/862/6). At age 31, his days of being a viable Fantasy option appear to be over. A healthy season by John Ross will push LaFell to 40 catches or fewer with empty Fantasy value.
WR Josh Malone – Malone was Cinci’s second pick in the fourth round of the 2017 draft. He’s another WR with plus speed (4.40 in the 40-yard dash in the 2017 NFL Combine). After being a top receiving talent out of high school, Josh turned in a mediocre career over three seasons at Tennessee (104/1608/14), but he did show growth in his junior year in 2016 (50/972/11). In his rookie season, Malone caught only six of his 17 targets for 63 yards and a TD.
Other Options: Cody Core, Auden Tate, Alex Erickson, Devonte Boyd, Ka’Raun White
TE Tyler Eifert – Over the last four seasons in the NFL, Tyler missed 40 games. His 2016 season started with him on the shelf an ankle injury that occurred in late May. His slow recovery from surgery led to him missing the first six games of the season. After short snaps in Week 7 (one catch for nine yards on two targets), Eifert showed dominating upside the next week vs. the Redskins (9/102/1 on 12 targets). He scored four TDs over his next six games with only 19 catches for 283 yards on 33 targets. A back injury cost him the last two games of 2016. He had surgery twice over the last year to correct his back issue. In 2017, Eifert was only on the field for two games (1/4 and 3/42). The Bengals respected his talent enough to sign him to a $5.5 million contract in March, so they believe he’ll offer something this season. Tough call here. I get the talent, which he showcased in 2015 (52/615/13), but he comes with injury risk. As long as his price point is free (after round 12), there is no real downside in taking him as your TE2. For now, Fantasy owners need a lot of more info before making a fair judgment on his value in 2018. I’ll avoid in the early draft season until I see him on the field.
TE Tyler Kroft – In his first season with starting snaps, Kroft caught 42 of his 62 targets for 404 yards and seven TDs. He made Fantasy owners extremely happy in the daily games in Week 4 (6/68/2) and Week 17 (6/53/2). Kroft had seven games with two catches or fewer in his 14 starts while failing to gain over 30 yards in nine games, which includes seven straight over the second half of the year. More of a bye week or short-term injury cover if given an opportunity to start. Tyler can score, and Dalton will look for the TE at the goal line.
Other Options: C.J. Uzomah, Ryan Hewitt, Cethan Carter, Scott Orndoff, Mason Schreck
K Randy Bullock – Over 63 games in his career in the NFL over five seasons, Randy has been successful in 82.8 percent of his field goal tries. In his rookie season, he missed nine of 22 chances from 40 yards or more. Randy showed growth his next season (30-for-35) with solid value from 50 yards or more (4-for-5), but he’s been unable to land a full time kicking gig over the last two seasons. In his career, Bullock is 6-for-12 from 50 yards or more with six extra-point kicks missed in 68 chances over the last three years. In 2017, he won the kicking job in Cinci leading to the best season of his career as far as field goals made (18-for-20). His leg is improving, but the Bengals’ offense is regressing in scoring chances. Only a matchup play if Cinci shows life offensively this year.
Cinci has two games (CAR and NO) vs. teams that ran the ball well in 2017. Their defense should have an edge against Tampa and Miami while the Chargers and the Raiders performed poorly in the run game last year. Overall, the Bengals won’t be tested in the run game.
Their defense has a tough four-game stretch (PIT, KC, TB, and NO) midseason against teams that had success throwing the ball. Cincinnati will be tested in three other games (ATL, LAC, and PIT). The Bengals start the year with three favorable passing matchups (IND, BAL, and CAR), but the Colts should be better throwing the ball with Andrew Luck expected back. Over the second half of the year, they have three much games (BAL and CLE x 2) against teams that struggled to pass the ball in 2017.
Overall, Cinci has an up and down schedule for their pass defense. The Browns won’t be the same team in 2018 with a running QB behind center and a hot rookie waiting to earn his NFL stripes. I only see a couple of games where I’d be willing to play the Bengals as my Fantasy defense if this group of defensive players shows growth from last year.
The Bengals allowed the third most rushing yards (2,098) in 2017, which was created by volume (30.6 rushes per game). Ball carriers gained 4.2 yards per rush with only eight runs gaining over 20 yards. Cinci gave up 13 rushing TDs.
Their pass defense has talent based on an eighth-place finish in pass yards allowed (3,379). QBs gained only 6.5 yards per pass attempt with 20 TDs and 11 Ints. Their defense picked up 41 sacks.
DT Geno Atkins continues to be the shining star on defense. He’s an excellent run defender who delivers impact sacks (nine in 2017 and 29 over his last three seasons) for an interior lineman. Geno chipped in for 46 tackles last year. DT Chris Baker has the most experience of the remaining inside options for the Bengals after signing in the offseason. In 2015 and 2016, Baker had 100 combined tackles and 9.5 sacks. Last season his game had risk against the run with emptiness rushing the QB (0.5 sacks). Cinci hopes one or more of their young options at DT develop into rotation players vs. the run and pass.
DE Michael Johnson tends to be a steady edge rusher who is a neutral player vs., the run. Last year Johnson had five sacks and 49 tackles, which falls into his recent resume with the Bengals. DE Carlos Dunlap consistently delivers value in sacks (7.5 in 2017 and 29 over the last three seasons) with above league average success against the run. His tackle total has slipped over the last three seasons (66, 55, 49, 46). DE Carl Lawson did a nice job in his rookie season after getting drafted in the 4th round. In part-time snaps (482), Lawson posted 8.5 sacks while holding his own against the run.
LB Preston Brown should be a nice addition to this defense especially with plenty of talent on the defensive line. Preston has over 100 tackles in all four of his seasons in the NFL with growth each year (109, 120, 139, and 144). He can make plays in coverage (ten defended passes in his career with three Ints and one TD), but he rarely gets to the QB (one career sacks).
LB Vontaze Burfict is a talented player, but he plays dirty leading to fines and suspensions. He’ll miss the first four games of the 2018 season due to failing a drug test. Over the last four seasons, Burfict missed 28 games. Vontaze is a plus run defender with value in pass coverage. In his career, he only has 8.5 sacks in 68 games.
LB Nick Vigil posted 79 tackles in his second year in the league over 11 games. An ankle and back injury ended his year in Week 12. Even with starting stats, Vigil was a liability in most areas in 2017. If he’s not ready for the start of the year, Cinci will turn to LB Vincent Rey who peaked in 2014 (121 tackles). Rey has over 85 tackles in his last four seasons while showing fade in coverage in 2017. Rookie LB Malik Jefferson will be the next option off the bench.
CB Dre Kirkpatrick hasn’t developed into a top corner after the Bengals drafted him in the first round in 2012. Over the last three seasons, he has 40 combined defended passes with 171 tackles and four Ints. Kirkpatrick is a much better player when the Bengals’ defensive line is closing the passing window with their pass rush. In his first season with playing time in the NFL after being drafted 24th in the 2016 NFL Draft, CB Williams Jackson posted high marks in his pass coverage ability. He finished with only 27 tackles with some risk defending the run plus 14 defended passes and one interception that resulted in a TD. Jackson missed all of 2016 with a torn pectoral muscle in his chest. CB Darqueze Dennard is a third first-round draft pick (2014) in this secondary. Last year he set a career high with 85 tackles while adding two sacks, six defended passes, two Ints, and one TD. Dennard was an asset in all areas in 2017.
S George Iloka has been a consistent player over his career with most seasons resulting in league average safety play. He set a career-high in tackles (80) in 2017 with five defended passes and one Int. Iloka doesn’t have a sack in his NFL career. S Shawn Williams missed five games last year due to a back issue, a hamstring injury, and a concussion. He was on pace for 70+ tackles with five defended passes and a couple of Ints. His best value tends to be in coverage while adding value in run support.
This defense does have talent at all levels with their defensive line being their strength. With better play by their offense, Cinci will be able to be more effective rushing the QB when they make teams play one-dimensional. The Bengals have upside in sacks, which in turn should lead to more turnovers and possibly TDs. I don’t like their overall schedule from a Fantasy perspective, but I do see enough talent to believe they are viable as a second defense in the Fantasy market.
2018 NFL Team Outlooks