Bob Kravitz sat down with with Bengals.com reporter Geoff Hobson.
Kravitz: The Bengals had been a perennial playoff team before suffering a sharp decline last year, largely due to a terrible offense. Based on what you've seen, is this team ready to return to the post-season?
Hobson: They are playoff capable because of their defense. It is a rush-and-cover league and with Geno Atkins and Co. and three first-round corners led by William Jackson, a guy who has Pro Bowl potential, they can rush and cover. On offense, they did exactly what they had to do for the worst offense in the league last years. They changed the O-line coach after the worst rushing season in franchise history and got a new playbook designed to help Andy Dalton with quicker throws – kind of Chip Kelly meets Don Coryell. They were horrible running the ball in the preseason, but their weapons flashed in the pass game and there are a lot of them. Joe Mixon and Ross Bernard are speedy complements to standbys A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert.
Kravitz: What impact will the suspension of linebacker Vontaze Burfict have on the defense, and, more generally, what have they done to bolster a run defense that ranked 30th in the league last year?
Hobson: They're used to playing without Burfict. Since he made the Pro Bowl in 2014, he's missed 28 of 64 games. They like the kid starting at WILL, (Jordan) Evans, the sixth-round pick in 2017 and would have been the team's fastest linebacker if he'd been invited to the combine. They are clearly better with him (Burfict), but they've still won games. Plus, they signed a pure run-stopper who can play all three downs in middle linebacker Preston Brown, who led the NFL in tackles last season for Buffalo. At nose tackle, Andrew Billings had a great preseason. He was a much ballyhooed fourth-round pick in 2016 who some thought might go in the first round. He had a great spring as a rookie but suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first week of training camp in '16. A classic case of the injury taking him two years to recover after a so-so season last year. Big kid, very strong guy who set national weightlifting records in high school.
Kravitz: OK, the predictions: The Colts are a mystery. They're so young and not just inexperienced in terms of players, but on the coaching staff as well. This will be Andrew Luck's first regular-season game since Jan. 1, 2017, so it's hard to imagine he will be at the top of his game. If the Colts offensive line can somehow hold its own, the Colts will be competitive, but this is one of the top front-7's in the league. Give me the Bengals winning, 26-20. How do you see it?
HOBSON: Bengals, 24-17. Their biggest strength, their defensive line, is matched against the Colts biggest question, their offensive line. That can make for a long day. It is fortuitous scheduling for the Bengals that they get Luck early, as well as a transitioning coaching staff installing new schemes.