By Mark Carpenter –
It’s only one meaningless exhibition game. Keep telling yourself that Bengals fans. The 17-16 loss to the Vikings on Friday night meant nothing. It was just a money grabber by the NFL, charging admission to see the starting lineup play a series and then head for the hills.
Still, I don’t have the optimistic feeling about 2016 for these bengals that I have had the past couple of seasons. I can’t put my finger on it, it’s just a bad feeling. Now, remember that I am not one of you bandwagon fans who have adorned your wardrobes in orange and black the last few years when the team has gotten “good” again, I have been there through it all, Klingler, Shula, Coslet, the whole deal. Granted, the 2016 version of the Bengals is far, far better than any of that, but something just is lurking in the back of my mind.
I guess I should focus on the positives first. No matter what the haters say, I am a fan of Andy Dalton. I know they haven’t won a playoff game, but hey, it sure is nice to be in the conversation instead of where we were 15 years ago. (I just broke my golden rule of journalism and broadcasting by using “we”. I actually don’t play for the Bengals.) We also found out last season that if Dalton goes down, a pretty good backup is waiting in A.J. McCarron. So the quarterback position is good.
I also have faith in the running back duo of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, especially Hill, who I think is heading into 2016 with a giant chip on his shoulder after last season. Now that leads me to the things that concern me about this offense.
Obviously, the wide receiver position took a big hit in the off-season with the losses of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, making the question, who replaces them and their production? I worry that A.J. Green is going to see a lot of double coverage until someone shows they can step up and be that second threat. In the draft came Tyler Boyd and Cody Core who have drawn high praise in training camp, but that is just training camp. Brandon LaFell came over from the Patriots and I wonder why the Patriots, who aren’t loaded at that position, didn’t want him. And am I the only one who has the sinking feeling that Tyler Eifert may be out a lot longer than the team is letting on?
Throw in the fact that there are questions on the offensive line and a new offensive coordinator and I have concerns about the offense. Please tell me I am just imagining.
I have less concerns on the defensive side of the ball/ I actually think that the Bengals’ defensive line is one of the best in the league, though the loss this week of rookie Andrew Billings will not help in the depth department. The linebacking corps will be a bit down until the return of Vontaze Burfict and I am still waiting to see any kind of illegal hit on Antonio Brown, but that’s old news now. The secondary should be solid, but again I wonder how the loss of Reggie Nelson will be felt. I don’t like this-too many questions as I am being the eternal pessimist.
So here is my next concern-a killer schedule. Thank you NFL for sending the Bengals to New York to play on the anniversary of 9-11, that ought to be fun, and why not top that off with a second road game in a row to begin the season? A trip to Pittsburgh? Really? Well, finally the Bengals get to come home and who will be visiting-the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos- and we will let you stay home, just long enough to play one of those ridiculous Thursday night games, against the Dolphins, a team the Bengals always struggle with? Is that enough? Of course not, hit the road again. Try a trip to Dallas and why not hit Foxboro on your way through and help celebrate Tom Brady’s return from suspension. Come on back home now and play Hue Jackson’s Browns but before you get too comfortable, there’s a plane waiting to take you to London. Are you getting the point? That is just the first half of the season.
Perhaps I am worrying just too much,. I tend to do that, just stop by the office about noon on Monday and you will see. Whatever happens, I won’t be jumping off the bandwagon. I’ve been on for 40 + years, the fall would hurt too much.
For now, I will remain pessimistic. See, I found out many years ago that if you didn’t have high expectations for this team then you wouldn’t be too disappointed, but now they have set the bar much higher. Many experts still say the Bengals have the most talented roster in the NFL, so we will just have to wait and see if playoff appearance number six in a row is in the cards. Here’s hoping the Red rifle is locked and loaded!