The Cincinnati Bengals have known all summer that they could start the 2016 NFL season without star tight end Tyler Eifert. Eifert suffered an ankle injury during last year’s Pro Bowl and struggled so much to recover from it that he wound up going under the knife.

Eifert Still Not Ready

Eifert was hoping for a week one return, but recent reports suggest that’s just not likely. In fact, per NFL Network‘s Ian Rapoport, the Bengals may not be banking on their stud tight end to return to the starting lineup until week four at the earliest.

As of now, Eifert may be facing a lengthy 4-6 week return time table and those aspirations of a week one return look less and less realistic.

Hits Keep Coming

It’s bad news for a Bengals offense that has certainly taken their lumps since the end of the 2015 NFL season. On top of Eifert’s injury, they lost offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and watched wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu leave in free agency. In addition, they brought in Brandon LaFell to help with the losses at receiver, and he himself has struggled to stay healthy.

Needless to say, Andy Dalton could be severely short-handed in the passing game to start the season. That could put unwanted pressure on Dalton to perform, with stud number one wide receiver and rookie Tyler Boyd as his only reliable weapons in the passing game.

The Bengals could opt to lean on their versatile running game harder than ever, while shifty scat-back Giovani Benard could be used more as a receiver, perhaps both out of the backfield and in the slot.

Betting on Bengals

The Bengals were fantastic for much of 2015, looking like a legit Super Bowl contender before losing Andy Dalton to an untimely thumb injury. They still held on to win the AFC North division title and only lost the the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the playoffs because of a Jeremy Hill fumble.

On paper, the Bengals still might be the team to beat in their division, and the fact that Vegas still likes them enough (+190 odds to win the AFC North) suggests they could be right back in the thick of things again. The Steelers still edge them out in odds there, though, and Cincy isn’t a top title contender at the moment (+700 odds to get to the Super Bowl and just +2000 to win it).

Needless to say, despite their talent and potential, the stock is dropping a bit for the Bengals. Eifert missing anywhere close to this nasty 4-6 week time table could be absolutely devastating.

That feeling grows stronger with one quick look at Cincy’s schedule through the first six weeks of the 2016 season:

  • Week 1 @ Jets
  • Week 2 @ Steelers
  • Week 3 VS. Broncos
  • Week 4 VS. Dolphins
  • Week 5 @ Cowboys
  • Week 6 @ Patriots

Cincinnati is a deep and balanced team that clearly could make up for Eifert’s absence with other weapons, a ball control offense and a solid defense. Still, this is a murderer’s row on paper, with road dates with the Jets, Steelers, Cowboys and Patriots easily turning out to be losses. Even a week three home date with Denver could be trouble, given the Broncos’ elite defense. On paper, the Bengals still look to be the better team than the Dolphins, and this may be their only clear game where they look like the overwhelming favorite.

Cincinnati could still pull out wins over all of these teams, but a very rough start can’t be ruled out. Suffice to say, betting on the Bengals for the first 4-6 weeks could be problematic.

Fantasy Football Impact

There is more than betting at risk here, as Eifert takes a serious value hit in season long fantasy football leagues. The mounting issues in Cincinnati also could easily negatively impact Andy Dalton and a number of other top shelf Bengals options.

The one guy that probably makes it out of this cleanly is A.J. Green, who should be a target monster in all fantasy formats for as long as Eifert remains out. We should also see solid bumps for Tyler Boyd, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Kroft and Giovani Bernard. All of these options could end up being sneaky plays in random weeks in daily fantasy football, as well.

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