BY Conrad Clowers

Cincinnati Herald Contributor

Ready or not the 2017 NFL regular season will begin in a matter of days. Here’s the question. Are the Bengals a better team today then they were on the last game of the 2016 season January 2? The answer is yes. But if you go area by area, you will definitely get no for the offensive line. Two of the NFL’s best in Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth are now with other teams. Overall, the team is better. Better pass rushers. More speed. Better depth. With all this said, the team will still not come out with full strength.

For the second straight year, Bengal star linebacker Vontaze Burfict will start the season with the fans as a spectator. Burfict was suspended initially for five games for a vicious preseason hit during a game with the Kansas City Chiefs. The case was appealed and Burfict will have to serve a three-game suspension. Playing without Burfict is nothing new. It’s not like the team has never had to play without their star. Suspensions from on field illegal acts and concussions have sidelined the talented star. The team has almost gotten use to not having Burfict for past of the season.

Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones will be another spectator the first game of the season. While Burfict has had problems on the field that keeps him off, Jones’ off-field problems will keep him off the field in the first game. An early January, a run-in with the police cost Jones one game.

The team will also likely be hurt without Shawn Williams, his is injured.

When the first snap is taken against the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday, the team could potentially be without three of their starting defenders.

While the team may be hurt in some areas, they will be much stronger in others. Linebacker Carl Lawson and defensive ends Jordan Willis could both make immediate impacts. The duo has given the Bengals the necessary depth in speed on defense that was sorely needed. Offensively, Joe Mixon could very well take over the starting running back duties from Jeremy Hill who has been ineffective for the last two seasons. Speedster wide receiver John Ross’ long awaited debut will be put on hold as he recovers from a knee injury. When the team will be at full strength and recovered from injuries and suspensions could be anywhere from three to five games. The team will face Baltimore, Houston, Green Bay, and Cleveland in the first month of the season.

“We’ll need for some people to step up and do the job when their number is called,” said Bengal Head Coach Marvin Lewis.

For now, it will be a Baltimore Raven focus only. At home with the Ravens, Cincinnati should come out victorious.

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