This article is part of our Team Previews series.
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
For the third year in a row, the Bengals' season ended in a first-round playoff loss. This one was more disappointing than the previous two, as they were the home favorites entering the contest. Instead of losing to the Texans, they lost to a Chargers team that they had defeated on the road earlier. Once again, quarterback Andy Dalton came up short in a big game, turning the ball over three times. A key injury to cornerback Leon Hall was exploited for big plays by the opposition. The bitter ending to the game led Bengals fans to do a lot of soul-searching. Does Dalton have another level of development in him after three years, or is this as good as it gets? Is this as far as coach Marvin Lewis can take them?
Let's start with Dalton. An 11-touchdown outburst over Weeks 6-8 led us to believe that maybe the Red Rifle had transformed from a game-manager into an asset. Alas, he threw eight interceptions over his next three-game span. Though he had other big games down the stretch (home games against the Colts and Vikings, for instance), he also threw four interceptions against the Ravens in Week 17. At the end of the season he wound up with a career-high 4,293 yards and 33 touchdowns, but also 20 interceptions. His yards per attempt have crept steadily higher from 6.6 to 6.9 and then 7.3 last year, but so have his interceptions, from 13 to 16