The Cincinnati Bengals left much to be desired during the first half of the season, but on the bright side, it can’t get much worse over the final eight games.
Cincinnati (0-8) ranks 29th in scoring offense (15.5 points per game), 25th in yards per game (317.2), 22nd in scoring defense (26.2 points per game) and last in yards allowed per game (435.8).
The Bengals return after the bye to play host to the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 10, seeking its first win since Dec. 16, 2018, and hoping to do so with a rookie quarterback as Ryan Finley replaces benched veteran Andy Dalton.
Here are five things to look forward to in the second half of the season:
1. A.J. Green’s pending return
Seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green has yet to play a game this season after injuring his ankle the first day of training camp, but he is hoping to take part in his first full practice since 2018 on Wednesday with the goal of being ready for Baltimore.
That would be a huge help to Finley. It would have been a huge help to Dalton, too. According to Elias, Dalton and Green are the 12th most prolific scoring duo of all-time with 58 touchdown hook-ups. All but five of Green’s career touchdowns came from Dalton.
The Bengals are 66-44-1 with Green on the field.
2. Seeing what Finley provides
Head coach Zac Taylor wants to see what Finley can provide before the Bengals start looking to the 2020 draft. They could take a quarterback with an anticipated high pick unless Finley dazzles enough to change the course of the future.
RELATED: Finley buoyed by support of Dalton
Finley struggled when he first arrived during the off-season workout program, but the accuracy he was known for at N.C. State showed up in the preseason, and the Bengals are hoping he can replicate that against a first-team defense.
The 24-year-old has yet to appear in an NFL regular-season game and practiced with the first-team offense for the first time Wednesday during a rain-shortened session before the team broke for the bye.
3. Winnable games
Four of the Bengals’ eight losses were decided by a touchdown or less, and they had a lead in the third quarter against Jacksonville before falling 27-17 as Dalton threw three interceptions (he bounced back the next game before getting benched).
The remainder of the schedule features just two games against opponents with winning records – Baltimore is 5-2 and the unbeaten Patriots come to town Dec. 15, which should draw a decent visiting crowd.
Among the other opponents are the also winless Dolphins and 1-6 Jets, and Cincinnati still plays the Browns (2-5) twice.
If it doesn’t go well, at least Bengals fans have the hope of a potential No. 1 overall draft pick coming their way. (Taylor says he’s trying to win games, even if it means losing a higher draft pick, but the Bengals are currently in the race for it with the Jets and Dolphins).
4. Can Brandon Wilson keep it up?
In an otherwise lost season, the Bengals might have found a bright spot in kick returns with Brandon Wilson proving to be an explosive player in that role.
Wilson averages 37.4 yards per return and had a 97-yard return for a touchdown in his first full game filling in for injured Darius Phillips. Alex Erickson has always been a consistent returnman, averaging 26.2 yards per return in his best season last year, but special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons was looking to keep him on punt returns and use someone else on kick returns, and Wilson has proven a suitable replacement so far.
5. Potential for a Jonah Williams sighting?
Rookie first-round draft pick Jonah Williams underwent shoulder surgery in June and was expected to possibly miss the entire season; however, the Bengals haven’t ruled out his return.
When asked about Williams a few weeks ago, Taylor said he wouldn’t put a timetable on him but noted that the young tackle has been doing everything he needs to get healthy and is making good progress.
The Bengals spent almost the entire off-season retooling the offensive line around Williams starting at left tackle before he suffered the injury at the end of Organized Team Activities. If he can get healthy enough to even get on the field once, it would be a benefit to Cincinnati to be able to see what he can provide and for him to get a taste of NFL competition.
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