As predicted, the Bengals had a great regular season and if not for stupid penalties by Vontaze Burfict, they would have played at Denver in the divisional round, likely with Andy Dalton under center. At the same place, the Bengals forced overtime in week 16 with AJ McCarron starting.
The offense was stellar due to a good offensive line and a healthy receiving corps. On the other side, they had the 2nd-best scoring defense (16.2 PPG). They gave up 5.8 NYPPA (#5), allowed a TD percentage of 47.37% in the red zone (#5) and had a pass DVOA of -0.9% (#10). With the returning of DE Michael Johnson and OLB Vontaze Burfict they were also able to get pressure on opposing QBs, sacking them on 7 out of 100 dropbacks.
Going into the off-season, the Bengals have all of their starters on the secondary touching free agency along with CBs Adam Jones and Leon Hall and the phenomenal safety tandem Georgoe Iloka and Reggie Nelson. While Iloka is 25, the other three are 30+ years old. While a rejuvenation could be good for the future, this is tremendous experience hitting the open market. The Bengals have some cap space, but it’s tough to retain a whole secondary that played extremely solid in 2015. Dre Kirkpatrick was plugged in as a starting corner several times but he didn’t justify being a first-round pick last season when healthy and Darqueze Dennard saw only 17.4% of the defensive snaps. It would be wise to try to retain atleast 3 of these 4 guys. George Iloka is probably the best SS in this year’s free agency class and should get some decent value on the open market. Reggie Nelson is an experienced free safety who turns 33 when the season starts. Charles Woodson recently showed that you can play this position up to 39 years old. The FS free agency class is filled with Eric Weddle, Eric Berry, Walter Thurmond, Rodny McLeod, Tashaun Gipson and Louis Delmas. Either way, the Bengals have to spend to have a good secondary group in the summer.
The LB corps was the weak unit of this team and Vincent Rey as well as Emmanuel Lamur are both hitting free agency. I don’t believe the Bengals are going to try to keep them as they played poorly last season. Rey was graded 43.8 overall by PFF in 775 snaps, Lamur got 39.7 in 342 snaps. AJ Hawk isn’t good, Rey Maualuga was solid and Burfict, the best LB on the roster, has some glaring issues when he sees red. Paul Dawson is a good prospect and should see more playing time next year. Other than that, the Bengals don’t have an outstanding LB corps and they don’t have depth. Remember, Burfict missed the first 8 games last season. The Bengals need to invest a draft pick here in my opinion.
On the offense it gets interesting as well. LT Andrew Whitworth, the 4th-best graded left tackle last season and a true stud, is already 34 and nobody knows whether he can hold the same level for another season. RT Andre Smith is a free agent coming off his worst career season, allowing 35 pressures. But the problem is, when Smith didn’t play, it got even worse for the Bengals. Against the Texans (6-10 loss on MNF), the Bengals tried to play around backup Eric Winston, they didn’t trust him to get some plays out of JJ Watt. But to be fair, most RTs struggle to do just that. As an insurance, the Bengals drafted two tackles with their first two picks in the 2015 draft, Cedric Ogbuehi out of Texas A&M and Jake Fisher out of Oregon. Ogbuehi was coming off an ACL tear and saw a few situational snaps late in the season. Jake Fisher was used as a TE and HB in power formations, he saw 103 offensive snaps. Guards Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler are solid/good, center Russel Bodine was just the 30th graded guy on his position. The Bengals could use an upgrade here. Will Cedric Ogbuehi play RT and connect with his college performances at TAMU? Will the Bengals draft a center or get one out of a weak free agency class? All in all, this offensive line won’t be the same next season.
Receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu are free agents. Personally, I would let Sanu walk and try to resign Marvin Jones to a longterm deal. After sitting out the whole 2014 season, Jones answered with 65 receptions for 816 yards and 4 TDs. But the most important thing about Jones is that he can stretch the field and opens up space for A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert. Keeping Jones would provide Dalton with an elite receiving trio for the next years if they can also keep Eifert longterm.
What does it mean in terms of betting?
I don’t think we will see another 12-4 season by the Bengals. Their off-season needs to be followed closely, just like any other team. With all the questionmarks on defense and offensive line and the predicted renaissance of the Ravens, it’s highly probable that the Bengals are going to regress next season. If the Bengals don’t answer with a depth chart that equals the same quality on defense and OL like last season, we are going to have an advantage early in the season. There is no doubt the public will have their recent good season in mind and will expect a fulminant start with Andy Dalton back under center. This will result into inflated lines early in the season. People who study the game and the teams during the off-season have a true edge when the season starts because they see things 90% of the bettors don’t.