The NFL season is inching closer. Through July, Shutdown Corner will examine three big questions for each NFL team as it heads to training camp.
Report date: July 25 for rookies; July 27 for veterans
Where: Cincinnati, Ohio
1. How much longer can Marvin Lewis hang on?
The Bengals organization hates change. Haaaaaates it. How else to explain how Marvin Lewis, 0-7 in playoff appearances across a 14-year career, still has a job? But this has to be a crucial point for the Bengals. Cincinnati didn’t make the playoffs last year after a run of five straight Januarys. When you don’t even have the “just happy to be here” excuse to fall back on, you’re down to your last, skinny branch. And while the AFC North has two all-but-guaranteed wins (‘sup, Cleveland), the Steelers aren’t getting any weaker even as the rest of the AFC starts edging up on those two wild card spots. Plus, Cincinnati has that rarest of qualities—a functional quarterback—but some severe concerns all around him, which we’ll get to in a bit.
Bottom line: Lewis has to win, now. Cincinnati settles for mediocrity—just look at its chili—but even Cincinnati has its limits. Lewis is in the final year of his contract, and if he wants another one, he’ll have to significantly outperform his recent results.
2. What’s the story with the receiving corps?
A.J. Green is one of the finest receivers in the game, half a tic below Julio Jones and Antonio Brown … and that’s probably only because he doesn’t play for a winning team. But he’s been out there on his own, especially since Mohammed Sanu jumped ship to go back up Jones. Now, though, Green has help in John Ross, who staked the fastest 40-yard dash in NFL combine history.
[Pressing Questions: Fantasy outlook on the Bengals]
3. How will the offensive line improve?
An advanced aerial attack is key to the Bengals’ hopes; if Andy Dalton is able to unleash the full power of his Ginger Arsenal, the Bengals will be in just about every game. The key, of course, is giving Dalton time to move, and that’s where the o-line, one of last season’s glaring weaknesses, needs to step up. Football Outsiders ranked the line very low in a number of categories, including pass protection, and that’ll have to change pronto.
The Bengals drafted Joe Mixon despite an airport carousel’s worth of baggage, and if Mixon is going to be able to contribute at all, he’ll need to have room to move, as will incumbents Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard. The line doesn’t have much, if any, NFL experience, and if the unit can’t coalesce quickly, well … at least Bengals fans won’t have to suffer another one-and-done outing in the playoffs.
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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.