Season grade: Below average. The Bengals’ 7-9 record speaks for itself. Their offense was the worst in the NFL and their defense was usually on the field too much to be effective. The Bengals got nothing out of first-round draft pick John Ross and had to fire offensive coordinator Ken Zampese after two weeks.
Season in review: The Bengals came into the season with aspirations of reversing last season’s 6-9-1 record and getting back to the playoffs. Even with a disappointing start to the season, it looked like things might get back on track when they were leading the Steelers 17-0 with a chance to get to .500. But things fell apart and so did the season, likely ending the long-standing tenure of Bengals coach Marvin Lewis.
Biggest play of season: Bengals CB William Jackson III didn’t tackle Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell in the third quarter of their Monday night meeting, and Bell went down the sideline 35 yards for a touchdown. The Bengals had been leading 17-3 at the time, and it was the start of the Steelers’ eventual comeback that would define the rest of the Bengals' season.
He said it: “Our goal as an organization is to be world champions. We’re not going to get there this year. That’s my job, to get the team to win the Super Bowl, and we’re short of that this year. ... There’s nothing in between as a coach -- you either do or you don’t. And this year we didn’t.” -- Bengals coach Marvin Lewis
Key offseason questions:
Biggest draft need: Offensive line. The Bengals failed to address this in the offseason after letting Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler walk. They must address this now or face another season with a bad offense. Bengals' 2015 first-round picks Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher didn’t cut it this year. It’s time to address this position for real instead of trying to patch the holes.
Free-agency targets: The Bengals don’t dabble much in free agency, but they should make that a priority this season. The Bengals signed middle linebacker Kevin Minter in free agency last season, but he signed a one-year deal and ended the year on IR. The Bengals should address the offensive line and linebacker position again, and perhaps try to re-sign tight end Tyler Eifert at a bargain price if possible.
Is this it for Marvin Lewis? Lewis has refused to talk about his future publicly, but it sure looks like this is the end of his long tenure with the Bengals. Lewis’ contract expires after the season, as do the contracts of many of his assistants. Changes will likely be coming to Cincinnati soon.
Making a fresh start: The Bengals need to wipe the slate clean and hire a coach without any ties to Cincinnati. A coach who came up through the offensive ranks would help improve the last-place offense and could coach up Andy Dalton, who seems likely to be the starting quarterback again next season.