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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Cincinnati Bengals

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Bad things have come in threes for the Bengals. Three straight years, three consecutive playoff appearances and three losses in a row. If they make it four for four -- or worse yet, fail to make the playoffs -- we could see some major changes.

Marvin Lewis remains the head coach, entering his 12th year in Cincinnati. But a year without a playoff victory might make it his last. The same could be said for fourth-year starter Andy Dalton. He's coming off of a career-year (4,293 passing yards, 35 total touchdowns and 23 turnovers) but faces an uncertain future as his contract is up at the end of this season. He also will have to adjust to a new offensive scheme installed by veteran playcaller Hue Jackson after Jay Gruden, who had been with Dalton for all of his short career, moved on to become the head coach of Washington this offseason.

Gruden wasn't the only loss the Bengals had among their coaches this offseason, as defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer moved to Minnesota to coach the Vikings. Zimmer had long been the architect of the Bengals' competitive defense. Linebackers coach Paul Guenther will replace him but also must find a replacement for pass rusher Michael Johnson, now a Buccaneer. The Bengals also have some uncertainty surrounding players coming back from injury, most notably All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins and cornerback Leon Hall, both of whom sustained season-ending injuries last year.

Two new coordinators on a team that hasn't gotten over the hump of winning one playoff game, much less getting close to the Super Bowl. In many instances that's a recipe for disaster, but the Bengals have a lot of talent. Receiver A.J. Green and rusher Giovani Bernard anchor an offense that has done well even when Dalton has an inexplicable meltdown, and linebacker Vontaze Burfict and pass rusher Carlos Dunlap help support a deep and mostly experienced defense.

If the talent can mesh with the wrinkles the new coordinators put into their playbooks, then the Bengals will have another opportunity to play for a playoff berth this coming January.

Bust I ... Andy Dalton

Despite being the third-best quarterback in Fantasy last season, no one wants to draft Dalton to be their Fantasy starter entering 2014.

Maybe it's because he wasn't very consistent last year, posting only seven games with 20-plus Fantasy points (he did have three with 18 or 19 points). Or maybe it's because new coordinator Hue Jackson doesn't have a strong track record of producing big-stat quarterbacks (though the best he's had in four tries in the pros has been Carson Palmer for a half a season). But it's probably because Dalton, for as productive as he was, is streaky. He'll go three weeks with great numbers (like 103 Fantasy points in Weeks 6 through 8 in 2013) before cratering (52 Fantasy points combined in his next four games).

If the best you can hope for is using Dalton three weeks at a time then he's not worth picking as a starter.

Bust II ... Marvin Jones

On the strength of scoring 10 touchdowns, Jones finished as a Top 24 receiver last season. But he also caught 51 passes for only 712 yards, meaning that in order for him to replicate his Top 24 finish he'll either have to keep scoring at a torrid pace or make up for a number of his touchdowns with an additional 200 yards receiving.

If you include the postseason, he had two games over 100 yards and three games over 75 yards. Mohamed Sanu will still attract his fair share of attention from Dalton and the tight ends might make a bigger dent in 2014. Jones' speed is nice but with his numbers not likely to take a huge jump, he's not even worth No. 3 receiver consideration in Fantasy.

Long-term target ... Jeremy Hill

2013 Touches Leaders
845 total touches
Giovani Bernard 226 (170 car., 56 rec.) 26.8%
BenJarvus Green-Ellis 224 (220 car., 4 rec.) 26.5%
A.J. Green 98 rec. 11.6%
Marvin Jones 59 (51 rec., 8 car.) 7.0%
Mohamed Sanu 51 (47 rec., 4 car.) 6.0%
All others 186 22.0%

Running back wasn't a position of need for the Bengals in the draft, but that didn't stop them from selecting Hill in Round 2. Thinking back to them doing the same thing with Giovani Bernard a year earlier, Hill figures to compete for playing time right away, potentially knocking BenJarvus Green-Ellis into a very, very backup role. This would give Hill some value in Fantasy play as soon as this season, but he needs to earn the power-rushing role first. That could be tough, as Bernard is capable of being the primary back for the Bengals, so Hill might not see a ton of work even if he is right behind Bernard on the depth chart.

That's why the long-term outlook for Hill is fancier than the one for 2014. You want to take him with a middle-to-late pick this year? Go for it. But those owners who can keep players for several years should be ready to claim Hill with a mid-round pick. The guy should score a bunch of touchdowns from up close for years to come.

Schedule analysis

The easier the matchup, the more likable Cincinnati's offensive players are. The Bengals start with two nice matchups in their first three games before a Week 4 bye. Back-to-back games against the Patriots and Panthers after that will be particularly tough, but then they have a seven-week stretch that includes three home games in a row followed by three straight on the road. Things get a little dicey at the end of the year when they play the Steelers in Weeks 14 and 17 with a matchup at home against the Broncos in Week 16. If defenses like the Steelers, Ravens, Broncos and Texans improve, then the Bengals offense is sure to sputter.

Training camp battles

Who's the back behind Giovani Bernard? We better see Bernard as the Bengals' top running back -- they're wasting him otherwise. It's a matter of time before Hill usurps Green-Ellis in the part-time physical back role that should include a lot of short-yardage and goal-line opportunities. If it happens soonerrather than later, the Bengals will be better off for it because Hill is a more explosive player than Green-Ellis. Fantasy owners would have a bye-week replacement running back that way, whereas no one would trust Green-Ellis.

How will the tight ends shake out? Tyler Eifert was a big sleeper of mine last year. Didn't happen. Jermaine Gresham played more than expected, but his stats went south. Neither guy was any good. Will it be more of the same in 2014, or can Eifert finally knock Gresham off the field and get more playing time to be the versatile asset we thought he'd be?

Bold prediction

We could go on and on about how the Bengals defense will struggle this season, partially because of their schedule, partially because of the talent they've either lost (and that includes coordinator Mike Zimmer) or are getting back from serious injury. But you guys want sizzle you can take to your drafts, so let's really focus on Giovani Bernard.

We believe Bernard will finish as a Top 12 Fantasy running back this season, even with BenJeremy Green-Hill (or JerJarvus Hill-Ellis if you prefer) swiping touches. We took a long look at the history of new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and the reality is that he loves his running backs. His rushers averaged anywhere from 22.2 to 26.4 carries per game and represented anywhere from 21.1 pct. to 33.3 pct. of the passing game. These are good numbers, particularly the passing game stats, for Bernard's prospects.

Jackson has spoken highly of the second-year speedster and is sure to involve him. Count on well over 300 touches from Bernard and at least matching the eight touchdowns he had last year with more than 1,400 total yards. He will finish inside the Top 12 of running backs.

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Player News
Giants' Odell Beckham says he played with hamstring tears
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:24 am ET) Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham said he played all season with two tears in his hamstrings, according to the New York Daily News.

Beckham took part in the Pro Bowl on Sunday, but admitted he's still not fully healed. Beckham said the injuries prevented him from getting to that "last gear that I wanted to have." He added that the injuries really bothered him against the Eagles and Colts. Beckham said he was "stumbling" and falling over during those games. He added that he's not sure whether he'll ever be 100 percent again.

The rookie had a tremendous season, hauling in 91 balls for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns. 


Patriots' Tom Brady meeting with NFL after Super Bowl 49
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Patriots quarterback Tom Brady doesn't expect to meet with the NFL until after Super Bowl 49, according to NFL.com.

The Patriots have been in the headlines all week due to DeflateGate, and it appears the situation won't be resolved until after the season. "I believe they're going to do [a meeting] after the season," Brady said. "So we'll deal with it after this game. I think everybody is locked in, ready to go for the Super Bowl." Both Brady and coach Bill Belichick have held separate press conferences during the week to deny the team's involvement in deflating their footballs. 

The Patriots are subject to punishment from the NFL if the leauge finds any wrongdoing during the investigation. 


Earl Thomas on bad shoulder: 'I'll still play fearless'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, who dislocated his shoulder in the NFC Championship Game, could remain limited in practice this week ahead of the Super Bowl, reports the Seattle Times. But he said he won't be thinking about the injury against the Patriots.

"When I come alive nothing is limited,’’ he said. “I’ll still play fearless, throw my body around, and let whatever happens, happens.’’

Thomas did allow that he might have to rely more on his teammates.

“My mindset is I have an opportunity to really trust my teammates,’’ he said. “This is the first game I’m going to have to trust them because of my injury. So I really, really, really trust my teammates, and that’s what I’m banking on, my teammates doing what they need to do and I need to come through myself.’’

It's unclear if Thomas will need offseason surgery.

The Seahawks are 1-point underdogs after opening as 2.5-point favorites.


Colts QB Matt Hasselbeck pondering retirement
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Colts backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck told ESPN.com he's not sure if he'll retire or return for a 17th season. Hasselbeck, 39, appeared in four games this season and played well, posting a 102.6 passer rating.

He's set to hit unrestricted free agency.


Colts expected to part ways with center A.Q. Shipley
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Colts center A.Q. Shipley is headed for unrestricted free agency, and the team is expected to let him go, reports ESPN.com. 

"Shipley went from starting in Week 1 to losing his starting job, to being inactive, to being the third-string center," the report said. "All without any explanation from coach Chuck Pagano or anybody in the front office."

Shipley, 28, has played in 45 career games, starting 19.


Report: Dolphins aim to re-sign TE Charles Clay
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) The Dolphins have privately indicated they want to re-sign impending free agent tight end Charles Clay and will make him an offer in coming weeks, reports the Miami Herald. Clay caught 58 passes for 605 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games this season.

Miami also is high on Clay's backup, Dion Sims, who's signed through 2016, the paper said.


Browns extremely thin -- and short -- at wide receiver
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) With wideout Josh Gordon facing a one-year suspension, the Browns are dangerously thin at receiver entering 2015. ESPN.com notes the Browns have two returning slot receivers in Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel and "an undersized situational receiver" in 5-10 Travis Benjamin.

Miles Austin is scheduled for unrestricted free agency after catching 47 passes for 568 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games. Tight end Jordan Cameron also is set to be an unrestricted free agent.

Hawkins, a 5-7, 180-pounder, led the team with 63 grabs for 824 yards, with two touchdowns. Cleveland failed to add a wideout in last year's draft but almost certainly must address the position in the 2015 draft.


Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas to practice this week
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(1/25/2015) Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told SiriusXM NFL Radio that cornerback Richard Sherman (elbow) and safety Earl Thomas (shoulder) will practice this week and should be "good to go" for the Super Bowl. Both got hurt in the NFC Championship Game.

Seattle is a 1-point underdog to the Patriots after opening as a 2.5-point favorite.


New optimism regarding Justin Blackmon's potential return
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) A lot of people inside the NFL are optimistic Jaguars receiver Justin Blackmon is "overcoming his issues" and will be back in the league in 2015, reports Fox Sports. Blackmon got suspended in November 2013 following his third violation of the league's substance-abuse policy.

He checked into a treatment facility last September. General manager Dave Caldwell said recently he hopes Blackmon wins reinstatement, but is not counting on it.


Reports: Josh Gordon tests positive again, facing 1-year ban
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Browns wideout Josh Gordon tested positive for alcohol and "now will be subject to a one-year banishment," sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter. Gordon was suspended for the first 10 games this season for a repeat violation of the league's drug policy.

Pro Football Talk reports that because of Gordon's past DUI, alcohol was one of the substances for which he was being tested. The website said a one-year suspension is likely a "done deal."

The Browns also suspended Gordon for missing a Saturday walkthrough before the regular-season finale, and CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reported then the Browns might be ready to part ways with the ultra-talented 23-year-old.

The Browns released the following statement regarding the news: 

"Clearly we are very disappointed to hear the latest report regarding Josh. At this point, due to the confidential nature of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, we have not been made aware by the league of a failed test. We are in the process of gathering more information and will provide further comment at the appropriate time."


 
 
 
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