This week, John Fay is getting answers to nine questions the Bengals face heading into the regular season. This is the first of the series.
CINCINNATI -- There’s really only one pertinent question about the Bengals heading into this season: Can they win a playoff game?
We won’t know about that until January.
In the meantime -- the season starts Sept. 11 against the Jets in New York -- we’ll ponder the lesser questions that will have a great effect on whether the Bengals can get to the postseason for the six straight year.
We’ll look at nine of them leading up to the opener. Let’s start with this:
How much will the Bengals miss tight end Tyler Eifert, and how long will he be out? Few things will affect the Bengals more than that two-part question.
Eifert made his first Pro Bowl last season and therein lies the rub. Eifert injured his ankle in the game. It required surgery May 25. He didn’t begin jogging until Aug. 25. As with all injuries, the Bengals don’t talk about it.
Speculation is he’ll miss all of September.
The Bengals appear to be confident he’ll return before Week 6. If they weren’t, they could have started him on the Physically Unable to Perform list and activated him then; instead, he starts the year on the active roster.
No one had a bigger role in the Bengals’ 8-0 start last year than Eifert. He ended up with 52 catches for 615 yards and 13 touchdowns -- one short of the NFL lead and a new Bengals record for tight ends.
Eifert had as much to do with Andy Dalton setting the team record for passing efficiency as anyone. Dalton threw to Eifert in the red zone more than any other receiver.
Tyler Kroft, the third-round pick in 2015, likely will fill in for Eifert as the starter. Kroft caught 11 passes for 129 yards and one TD last year. The Bengals also have Ryan Hewitt, who is more of an H-back, and C.J. Uzomah, the fifth-round pick in 2015.
But none of the above is going to give the Bengals what they had in Eifert: A TD-catching machine.
“Working through the injuries is part of being a good team,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “We’ve got to develop some depth and be well-rounded, and I think the playing time some other guys have gotten (in the preseason) has helped us do that.”
The Bengals are dealing with a very inexperienced receiver corps in general. A.J. Green is the only returning wide receiver.
Dalton thinks he’s up to the challenge.
“If this was my first or second year, it would be different,” Dalton said. “But this is year 6.”
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion.