Bengals look to take next step and advance in January

By: David Woeltz ~Staff Writer~

For Bengals fans, 2015 brings high expectations. It has been 24 long seasons since Cincinnati was able to capture a playoff victory, and after four straight first round exits, the team is ready to take the next step.

Photo courtesy of The pressure is on Dalton (L) and Lewis (R) to win their first playoff game

Blame has shifted from head coach Marvin Lewis, who has kept the Bengals competitive, to quarterback Andy Dalton, who has put up an abysmal one passing touchdown to five interceptions in the playoffs. Dalton signed a six-year, $115 million contract in 2014, but Cincinnati will have a team option on his contract after this season, so for Dalton it may be a playoff victory or bust.

Star receiver A.J. Green, who was injured for the Wild Card game versus the Colts last season, will continue to be the Bengals’ number one option. Third-year tight end Tyler Eifert adds another weapon to the Bengals’ arsenal after returning from injury and is expected to have a breakout year.

Even with a talented receiving corps, Cincinnati will utilize their rushing attack led by second- year running back Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. The tandem combined for over 1,800 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground last season despite being held to just 53 yards in their postseason matchup against the Colts.

Photo courtesy of Running back Jeremy Hill led the league in rushing over the final nine weeks of the season.

The rushing attack will rely on one of the Bengals’ strongest units, the offensive line. Anchored by left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the offensive line paved the way for the second-most rushing touchdowns of any unit in the NFL in 2014. Their pass protection was also superb, allowing the thirdfewest sacks. Rey Maualuga and Vincent Rey will lead the linebackers while Vontaze Burfict is sidelined with an injury.

Defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who led the Bengals with eight sacks last season, will combinewith Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson to lead a talented defensive line. Veterans Leon Hall and Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones headline the secondary, which might see an added contribution from Dre Kirkpatrick, who will finally get a spot in the starting lineup.

The bottom line for the Bengals is they have a talented roster with playoff experience and they should make a run in the playoffs. Andy Dalton will have another opportunity to prove he is worth the money and Marvin Lewis is primed for his first playoff victory with the Bengals since he took over in 2003.

The Bengals open up the season this Sunday with a 4:25 p.m. battle with the Oakland Raiders at Coliseum