Cincinnati Bengals 2019 season preview: Zac Taylor's big challenge

Resurgence or rebuild? Here's what to watch during the Bengals' season (0:32)

Resurgence or rebuild? Here's what to watch during the Bengals' first season under new coach Zac Taylor. Video by Ben Baby (0:32)

The Cincinnati Bengals are ranked No. 28 in ESPN's preseason Football Power Index. Here's everything you need to know about the Bengals heading into the 2019 NFL season:

The big question: How soon will the Bengals contend for a playoff spot?

After five consecutive playoff appearances at the beginning of the decade, the Bengals have failed to finish .500 or better the past three seasons. This year will show if the franchise has the necessary pieces to be competitive in the immediate future or if it should look to rebuild. Wide receiver A.J. Green is in the final year of his contract, and quarterback Andy Dalton has two seasons left on his deal. -- Ben Baby

Offseason in a nutshell

Cincinnati made its first coaching change since 2002 when it hired 36-year-old Zac Taylor to replace Marvin Lewis. Other than that, it was a quiet offseason. The Bengals didn't add any high-impact free agents. Offensive tackle Andre Smith and cornerback B.W. Webb arrived during training camp but will mostly provide depth. -- Baby

Inside the Bengals' schedule

Most important game: The Week 16 matchup at Miami could be important for vastly different reasons. If Cincinnati is in the playoff chase, the road game will be pivotal during the postseason push. However, if the Bengals and Dolphins both struggle, the outcome could have major draft implications for two franchises looking to turn the corner. Cincinnati and Miami start the season ranked among the bottom four teams in ESPN's preseason Football Power Index.

Toughest stretch: September is shaping up to be challenging. Three of the Bengals' first four games are on the road -- Week 1 at Seattle, Week 3 at Buffalo and Week 4 at Pittsburgh. The lone home game is a Week 2 matchup against an improved 49ers team. But even with the tough start, the strength of schedule should be among the easiest in the league. That gives Cincinnati a slim chance of making a run at a wild-card berth.

Over or under 6.3 wins? Under. Most projections have the Bengals with one of the lowest win totals in the league. And even with a new, offensive-minded coach, Cincinnati has a lot to overcome to have a winning season. But the lack of changes on defense and the questions on the offensive line could result in back-to-back seasons of six wins or fewer. -- Baby

Schedule ranking: No. 24

The whole AFC North has gone from having hard schedules in 2018 to easier projected schedules in 2019, thanks to switching out the NFC South and AFC West as opponents for the NFC West and AFC East. The Bengals are no exception; they ranked second in the league in schedule strength a year ago. Cincinnati's AFC East games, including the hard one (i.e., the Patriots), are stuffed into the end of the season: December consists of a home-and-home with the Browns plus three AFC East opponents. The Bengals drop from 18th in average projected DVOA of opponent to 24th in these rankings because they play only seven road games, with the eighth would-be road game coming in London against the Rams. -- Football Outsiders | See the full 1-32 ranking

Breakout fantasy star: WR John Ross

Ross' career hasn't gone as planned since he posted a record 4.22-second 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL combine. He was a non-factor as a rookie before catching 36 percent of his targets and averaging 3.6 yards per target (both worst at the position) last season. Durability is a major concern (he has missed 16 games), but the 23-year-old will nonetheless look to follow in teammate Tyler Boyd's footsteps by going from near bust to fantasy star in his third season. -- Mike Clay | More fantasy coverage

The view from Vegas

Super Bowl odds: 125-1 (opened 100-1)
Over/under: 6 (O +110/U -130)
Playoff odds: Yes +650, No -1000

Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook as of Sept. 2.

Most interesting player prop

Over/under 3,600.5 passing yards for Andy Dalton:

  • Baby: Under. He has passed the 3,600-yard mark in three of his eight NFL seasons, most recently in 2016. Green's absence to start the season, coupled with an added emphasis on running back Joe Mixon, could lead to reduced passing numbers for Dalton.

Bold prediction: Carl Lawson will have 14 sacks

Lawson will come back strong after an ACL injury, and will have 14 sacks, the most by any Cincinnati player since 2015. The 2017 fourth-round pick will help the Bengals put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which is one of the things the defense has lacked in recent seasons. Geno Atkins' 10-sack season in 2018 was the first time in the past three years that a Bengals player posted a double-digit total. -- Baby

Where the Bengals landed in NFLRank

Speed reads before the opener