Another Cincinnati Bengals season has come to an end. The 2015 season was loaded with record-breaking performances on both sides of the ball. The Bengals were able to make the playoffs for the fifth year in a row. Once again, joy turned to anguish as the final ticks melted from the Paul Brown Stadium scoreboard. But the year was filled with enough excitement to generate even more interest for the 2016 campaign. Here are five reasons to be excited about the Bengals upcoming season.
The Bengals defense
Bengals fans were given a beastly treat during the regular season. The defense started the year with an attitude and kept it. There was an undeniable swagger about the defensive unit that reeked of championship. The Bengals were able to play at a high level and looked extremely comfortable. Every player that was called upon executed Paul Guenther's schemes with ease.
Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap anchored a D-line that was one of the best in the league. Per ESPN stats, Dunlap ended the year with a club record 13.5 sacks. Atkins looked like the beast that tallied 12.5 sacks in 2012. He was able to fine-tune his game and finished with 11 sacks on the season.
The unit as a whole was amazing. Ending the year as the No. 2 ranked scoring defense, the Bengals defense set a franchise record for fewest points allowed. If Bengals brass can ensure the return of some key free agents, the defense will remain a serious force for some time.
Andy Dalton was the surprise of the season. Dalton was able to shut down his doubters, with an improvement that went across the board. The numbers were staggering, to say the least. If not for an injury against the Steelers, he would have been a prime candidate for MVP honors. Look for him to return to form and be even better. The sessions with quarterback guru Tom House have done wonders.
Another reason for excitement is Tyler Eifert. Bengals opponents found him to be a matchup nightmare. His size and strength make him a proficient blocker on the line. His ability to run routes like a wide receiver makes him a dangerous deep threat. He proved to be one of the league's top tight ends in a Bengals uniform. His 13 TD receptions created red zone chaos. He's a scary option for any signal-caller to have.
Jeremy Hill should emerge from a sophomore slump and regain his rookie form. Hill showed flashes of that form throughout the season. After fumbling in the AFC Wild Card Game, his focus should be sharper.
A.J. Green should be able to provide Bengals backers with another 1,000-yard season. Only Green and Randy Moss have achieved five consecutive seasons hitting that mark. His Bengals teammates will be a part of history, when he does it in 2016.
Improved coaching staff
With the exodus of so many coaches, one would think the Bengals would be at a loss. Marvin Lewis has replaced the defections with top caliber veterans. Jim Haslett was 1979 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He's already looking forward to helping Vontaze Burfict channel his energy. Ken Zampese will keep the Bengals moving forward. The same playbook keeps continuity for the No. 7 ranked scoring offense.
The return of Kevin Coyle–who was aboard when the Bengals led the league in interceptions–is also a big bonus. Lewis has assembled his most experienced staff in 14 years.
No Bengals season would be complete without the need to prove they can win. The motivation this year will be losing a playoff game that they essentially won. Whether it was officiating or emotional meltdown, the Bengals will have to move to the next level. That means wining a playoff game and more. The drive will be huge.
Time is running out
The Cincinnati Bengals have one of the most talented cores of players in the NFL. But it's time to show it. Looking good on paper has been the hallmark of this team. In 2016, the key will be to produce before the group gets too expensive.
[Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images]