If it wasn’t for the Bernard fumble at the end of the first half of their 2013 playoff loss to the Chargers, the Bengals may have won that game. Sure, Dalton lacks composure in high-pressure situations, but he will not be the biggest issue for the Bengals going into 2014. Dalton has displayed ability to play at a high level on a more regular basis as his career progresses. There is good reason to believe that Dalton will have a better 2014 season than 2013. He is entering a contract year and has another year of experience under his belt. That being said, the Bengals have new coaches at Offensive Coordinator and Defensive Coordinator. Current members of the coaching staff were elevated from within the ranks and this may help with team continuity. Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer were high quality coaches and the Bengals will miss what they brought to the table, though.
The Bengals lost Anthony Collins and Michael Johnson to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, they have resigned Brandon Tate and Vincent Rey. This “win some, lose some” has been the Bengals approach in recent years. To make bigger strides they will have to hit big in the draft. I would suspect their focus to be mainly on defense – at all positions but especially cornerback.
There doesn’t seem to be any effort to spend much of the 24 M in available cap space this offseason. At some point they will have to use it per the new CBA rules. I’m sure Dalton and Green will see a large chunk of that cash, but I would think that they would spend on a big name free agent eventually. Probably next year.
The NFL is a very competitive league where not much separates a winning team from a losing team. Success can be fleeting. It’s a game where qualities like “winning culture” and “swag” are genuinely sought and discussed by team executives. To me, this is evidence of just how tenuous a winning season can be (see 2013 Texans as evidence or 2013 Chiefs for the other side of that coin). Unfortunately, the Bengals will be candidates as proof of this argument going into 2014.
They have a strong roster, though, and it’s unlikely that they’ll fall very far in the overall AFC playoff picture. Prediction: the Bengals will have an up and down, 8-8 season as the coaching staff grows into their new roles.