2018 win total: 6.5
2017 record ATS: 9-7
Optimist view: It says here the Bengals don't have a 7-9 roster (13-18-1 since 2016) but have been poorly coached. And though they still can't quit Marvin Lewis, who's back with a new contract for Year 16, evidence that the Bengals are otherwise trying a different tack exists, beginning with the reinvestment in Andy Dalton's protection.
No unit held back the Bengals more than their offensive line, which will have at least two new starters — LT Cordy Glenn and rookie C Billy Price — and a position coach, Frank Pollack, each acquired to help steady wobbly Andy Dalton and a woeful ground game.
That could mean big things for A.J. Green and Joe Mixon, and perhaps Tyler Eifert and John Ross, if they can stay on the field. We've seen Dalton play at a Pro Bowl level when he's properly supported, and the Bengals have explosive upside all throughout the offense.
And playmakers aren't lacking on 'D,' either, where rising stars in William Jackson III and Carl Lawson return on a group that was middle of the pack vs. the pass but awful stopping the run. To wit: the Bengals offense ranked 30th in first downs and 32nd in time of possession; if Lazor can establish the powerful and balanced attack he covets, the defense will get plenty of relief.
Pessimist view: Glenn and Price are marked improvements capable of bringing strength and stability up front, but Glenn hasn't played a 16-game season since getting paid like a premier left tackle two years ago and Price's remarkable durability at OSU will be tested by his torn pectoral muscle suffered at the combine.
Although the Bengals made some interesting LB additions in Preston Brown and rookie Malik Jefferson that can help offset another suspension to begin the season for Vontaze Burfict, for better or worse, the 'D' is still built around Burfict. It's also being rebuilt along the first level, where Geno Atkins remains a war daddy but isn't getting younger; neither are Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson. That means Lawson, Jordan Willis and the newcomers, including vet Chris Baker and rookies Sam Hubbard and Andrew Brown, must contribute.
And now for the elephant in the room: Lewis returns, bringing with him the reputation of loathing playing his youngsters and not having the firmest grip on his volatile roster. Dalton also is back, and there are still questions regarding his ability to take another step forward in his career, much less get back to his 2015 form.
On schedule: Not terrible. The path to 5-3 at the halfway point is paved fairly well with a season-opening visit to the Colts and four winnable home games — Baltimore, Miami, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay — in addition to three road trips vs. 2017 playoff participants.
Hosting two AFC West teams in flux in December, Denver and Oakland, in addition to playing both head to heads vs. Cleveland from Week 12 on is also manageable.
For a true turnaround, the Bengals likely need to exorcise their Steelers demons — Pittsburgh has won 9 of 10, the most recent that emotional game last December, when Ryan Shazier and Burfict were carted off with injuries.
But this isn't a bet on a true turnaround; it's a bet on the Bengals getting to seven wins, which they've done 12 times in Lewis' 15 seasons. Lest we forget they did it just last year, when the Bengals fired a coordinator after Week 3 and had among the NFL's worst offenses. But Cincinnati still kept the 9-7 Ravens out of the playoffs on the final Sunday of the season and has the potential of a club that could surpass Baltimore in the North standings and prolong Cleveland's coming out of (the cellar) party by another year.
Previous projected win total breakdowns