There has been a lot of complaining by fans about the quality of the NFL matchups to be played in London this year, with two played at Wembley and two (potentially?) played at White Hart Lane. For me the chance to see an NFL regular season game live is always a positive and the fact that there will be two teams that are new to the UK visiting is amazing. The Houston Texans, fresh off their playoff appearance as AFC South champions will face everyone’s second favourite team, the Jacksonville Jaguars. In addition, the Carolina Panthers – who will battle NFC South rivals the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Chicago Bears (a playoff team) also return to London to face Jon Gruden’s Oakland Raiders. Whilst the Raiders will boast a significant injection of youth courtesy of three first round picks and a draft shepherded by draft guru and now Raiders GM Mike Mayock. However, it’s the Cincinnati Bengals at Los Angeles Rams that is the matchup for me. Whatever happens in the Super Bowl the Rams are one of the best teams in the NFL when healthy but the Bengals are the team that has me excited.
So why are they so intriguing?
A.J. Green – Thirty year-old Green is among the best receivers in the NFL. Despite playing in just 9 games he collected 694 yards and 6 touchdowns. It was only the second time in 8 years that Green hasn’t recorded at least 1,000 yards. Green is a matchup nightmare for opposing coaches and can make the tough catches even in tight coverage. Last time Green visited London he put on a show with 9 catches and 121 yards.
Exciting young skill players – Running back Joe Mixon, despite starting only 14 games, rushed for 1168 yards and a 4.9 yard average on 237 attempts. Tyler Boyd finally lived up to expectations (1028 yards, 7, TDs) and there were even signs of life from disappointing former first round pick John Ross (210 yards but an impressive 7 touchdowns!).
Tools to work with on defence – Whichever way you slice it the 2018 Cincinnati Bengals defence was woeful; and were a huge reason the team slumped after starting 4-1. Despite allowing 500 yards in three consecutive games (an NFL record) and surrendering 51 points to New Orleans. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap are among the best in the business (18 combined sacks in 2018). Cornerback William Jackson is an impressive young player.
2018 rookies – An extension of the defensive pieces, rookies Jessie Bates (led the team in combined tackles an allowed a 59.9 quarterback rating in passes thrown his way last year – PFF) and Sam Hubbard (6 sacks despite playing sparingly early in the season) had strong starts to their NFL careers.First round pick, centre Billy Price, also showed promise despite dealing with injuries including a torn pectoral muscle benching at the combine and an ankle injury. He should be much improved with a full off season.
— Adam Williams (@adam_williams99) December 6, 2018
If the Bengals do neglect quarterback in round one, LSU linebacker Devin White would be a great addition to the existing talent.
A new quarterback? – The Bengals, picking 11th overall, will likely have the opportunity to draft one of the top quarterbacks in the draft; and they should. Andy Dalton was once again mediocre when healthy earning an 89.6 rating, lower than the likes of Chase Daniel, Kyle Allen and Nick Mullens! In fact, of the quarterbacks attempting more than 30 passes, Dalton ranked 30th. I called for them to draft a quarterback to challenge Dalton after free agency last year. With a new (yet to be announced) head coach this should be the year Dalton is challenged/replaced. Could Kyler Murray or Senior Bowl MVP invigorate the franchise?
A new head coach – Marvin Lewis, the team’s coach for the last 16 years, was fired and the Bengals will look to new blood to lead the team in 2018. Rams’ quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor is reported to be the favourite for the job by NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport. With plenty of weapons detailed above and time to address the offensive line, whoever is in charge will provide an offensive spark!
So there you have it, why I’m the most excited about seeing the Bengals in London next season. Disagree or agree, let me know your thoughts on Twitter @Cumbleton
Photo – Kareem Elgazzar