The Cincinnati Bengals enter the 2013 season in a rare position as the possible favorites in the AFC North.
After making the playoffs in both of Andy Dalton’s first two years under center, the Bengals are expected to take the next step and after posting a 19-13 regular season record, Dalton is expected to win in the postseason this year, something the Bengals haven’t done in 23 years.
However the Bengals season won’t get off to an easy start as they open up with another potential playoff team in the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
For the Bears, it will be the first game for new head coach Marc Trestman and what is supposed to be a high-powered offense.
Cincinnati spent over $180 million in the offseason to keep last year’s 10-6 intact and brought in former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison to bolster a unit that finished in the top seven in total defense the past two seasons.
They also drafted youngsters Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard in hopes of adding weapons to an offense that ranked 22nd in the league last season.
For the Bears, if they are to improve off last year’s 10-6 mark it will be all about whether or not jay Cutler can eliminate the mistakes from his game.
Cutler finished 2012 with an 81.3 passer rating last season, which ranked 20th in the league and was the second-worst of his seven-year career. He’s completed just 58.4 percent of his passes over the past two seasons, which must improve drastically.
Can the Bengals get off to a good start despite losing four of five season openers or will the Bears come away with their fourth consecutive season opening win?
Let’s take a look.
When: Sunday, September 8
Time: 1:00 p.m. EST
Place: Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
Spread: Bears -3
Last Meeting: 2009, Bengals 45-10 at Paul Brown Stadium
Key for Bengals: Take care of football
The Bears forced a league-leading 44 turnovers and returned eight interceptions for touchdowns in 2012. Dalton must protect the football and in turn, the Bengals offensive line, which will be without Andrew Whitworth, must give Dalton enough time to make smart decisions.
Establishing a running game with Benjarvis Green-Ellis and Bernard will help. Now that the Bengals have more weapons, it will be interesting to see if Dalton can keep everyone involved, while still getting Green the ball enough to be dominant.
Key for Bears: Protect Jay Cutler
A lot is made over Cutler’s struggles, but to his defense, he was sacked a ridiculous 61 times over the past two seasons.
The Bears tried to upgrade the offensive line in the offseason by signing veteran tackle Jermon Bushrod and guard Matt Slauson. They also drafted Kyle Long and Jordan Mills, both of whom will start on the right side.
Cutler still has weapons in running back Matt Forte and receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey to work with, but if he is under pressure from the Bengals stout front seven all game, you know that he will make his usual amount of ill-advised mistakes.
Prediction: It’s a tough opener on the road for the Bengals, but I think their defense makes it rough on Cutler and while I feel the Bears will score some points, the Bengals will force a crucial Cutler mistake late and leave Chicago with a win. Bengals 27 Bears 24