Having to make do without one of those three would make the task much more daunting.
2. The secondary might get worse, too.
Say what you will about Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones, but they must be better than the guys they were playing ahead of, and the secondary ended up being decent after a rough start to the season.
Kirkpatrick could leave during free agency, and Jones will be a year older, putting a bigger onus on some young, talented and unproven players (Darqueze Dennard, KeiVarae Russell and Williams Jackson III) to step up.
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3. There’s uncertainty in the backfield.
The Bengals entered 2016 with four useful players at running back, but third-stringer Rex Burkhead and special teams demon Cedric Peerman are free agents, Gio Bernard is coming off a major injury and Jeremy Hill has had a pair of disappointing seasons.
Maybe everyone is back and better than ever, or maybe the only hope come August is a bounce back from Hill. (Of course better offensive line play would help, too.)
4. What if Andy Dalton really isn’t the guy?
The quarterback has proven without a doubt he is a good NFL player through six seasons in the NFL.
But is he truly a franchise quarterback? That remains to be seen.
After an up-but-sometimes-down first four years, Dalton was magnificent in 2015 while surrounded by great talent.
When more of the offense fell on his shoulders this past season, he went back to looking more like his 2012-14 vintages – good but not great. He was average or below during a winless November and had his second-worst game in the most important one of the season, a 24-20 Week 15 loss to the Steelers that coincided with being eliminated from playoff contention.
With Dalton turning 30 this year, it’s fair to wonder if he is the best the Bengals can do even while acknowleding they could do much worse.
5. Same question: Marvin Lewis
Obviously anyone who follows the Bengals knows their veteran coach is a lightning rod.
He has done great things, but some can’t get past his 0-7 mark in the postseason, and that’s not entirely unfair. It’s a bottom-line business.
Yet he’s overseen the longest era of winning football in franchise history (after a decade that was easily the worst), and that has to be worth something.
Whatever the case, there’s a feeling this is going to be his last shot to prove how far he can take a team. Might as well hope for the best.