Key dates, notable additions, biggest storylines

2) Will the Bengals miss Joe Mixon? To help you process Mixon’s departure, let’s take a look at some facts. Mixon rushed for 1,000-plus yards four times in seven seasons with the Bengals, including a 1,034-yard, nine-touchdown performance in 2023. By the end of his tenure with the team, he had 6,412 rushing yards and 49 rushing scores, to go along with 2,139 receiving yards and 13 rec. TDs. But he was also nearly released before Cincinnati traded him to Houston for a seventh-round pick. So what was his value to this offense? And can Zack Moss effectively replace Mixon as the Bengals’ starting running back? When healthy, Mixon was a difference-maker, but he wasn’t a game-changer whose skills outpaced the execution of those around him. Still, he helped the Bengals remain competitive even after losing Burrow, amassing 1,410 scrimmage yards and 12 scrimmage scores, and it’s not certain Moss (plus Chase Brown, Chris Evans and Trayveon Williams) can match that. Apparently the Bengals thought they could get by just fine without Mixon, but I’m not convinced.

3) Can new offensive coordinator Dan Pitcher pick up where Brian Callahan left off? Callahan left to take the Titans’ lead, leaving a vacancy under primary play-caller Zac Taylor in Cincinnati. In came Pitcher, a coach with eight years of experience with the Bengals, the last four as quarterbacks coach. That aligns with the Bengals’ top priority (Burrow), but supporting Taylor will mean more than just the quarterback. That said, there shouldn’t be a significant dropoff, since Cincy isn’t replacing a play-caller and an offensive system. Taylor will still be responsible for calling plays, but it will be interesting to see if Pitcher’s promotion creates new wrinkles in the offense — or if Callahan’s departure exposes a crack in Cincinnati’s foundation.

4) Keep an eye on Tee Higgins. Of the nine players franchise-tagged by teams during the 2024 midseason, only Higgins did not agree to a long-term extension. Instead, he signed his tag, kicking off a “prove-it” campaign. This could go in a number of directions, of course, but the hope in Cincinnati remains simple: Higgins and the Bengals flourish, return to the playoffs and mount a deep run. At that point, Higgins could play himself out of Cincinnati, but it’s still better than the alternative scenario in which Higgins struggles and starts thinking seriously about how the season could impact his future earning power. In a perfect world, the Bengals would keep Higgins forever. But both sides know that this season matters a lot to both sides — for different reasons.

5) Persistence is the key. Despite finishing with a winning record, the Bengals were the only team in the AFC North to miss the playoffs in 2023. The division is expected to be even better — and therefore more difficult — in 2024, which is likely why HBO and NFL Films opted to show all four teams Hard Knocks: In Seasonwhich will shine a spotlight on each club. If the division lives up to its name, the Bengals could find themselves in a must-win scenario at the end of the season. They’ll play Pittsburgh after their bye (Week 13 at Cincinnati), travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys on a national stage on Monday night in Week 14, then play the Browns — who had their number in the Burrow era — in Week 16 before closing out the season in Pittsburgh. If the Bengals want to regain a relevant spot in 2024, they’ll have to earn it in the final month and a half.

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