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How the Bengals will weather Vontaze Burfict's suspension

If you read ESPN's list of 100 predictions that will frame the 2016 NFL season, you saw my blurb about the Cincinnati Bengals and soon-to-be-suspended linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

I wrote that the Bengals' defense would be minimally impacted by the absence of Burfict for the first three games of the season. As a matter of fact, that layoff could prove beneficial by Week 4.

Here's the complete blurb:

LB Vontaze Burfict's three-game suspension at the start of the season will have a minimal impact on the Bengals' defense. If anything, his Week 4 return will serve as jolt for the Bengals as they work through a tough early-season stretch.

We should point out that Cincinnati's first three games aren't necessarily easy ones. The Bengals open the season on the road at the New York Jets, playing on the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. That game will be followed by another road contest, at bitter rival Pittsburgh, on Sept. 18. One week later, Cincinnati opens its home slate with its third game in as many seasons against the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos.

That's quite the early-season gauntlet. But here are three reasons the Bengals ought to weather Burfict's absence just fine:

Karlos Dansby is hungry for a ring. Yes, he may be 34 and on the back nine of his career, but Dansby is desperate for a Super Bowl ring. He has flirted with the Lombardi trophy before, making it all the way to the big game with the Arizona Cardinals in the 2008 season. Which team ultimately beat the Cardinals in that Super Bowl? Those pesky Pittsburgh Steelers. If you don't think Dansby remembers his disappointment following Super Bowl XLIII, think again. One interception shy of becoming only the fifth linebacker in NFL history to record 40 career sacks and 20 career interceptions, Dansby was a free-agency steal for the Bengals. He should be able to transition from the base 3-4 defense he's spent much of his career playing in quicker than James Harrison did for Cincinnati in 2013.

They've done it before. We can look back to 2015 to see how the Bengals made it through games Burfict missed before. Because of how well the weakside linebacker played during the final 10 weeks of last season -- and the first 59 minutes of the wild-card playoff game against Pittsburgh -- it's easy to forget that he didn't begin last season in uniform. Rehab from knee surgery kept Burfict out of the first six games. During that timeframe, the Bengals ranked in the top 10 in opposing QBR, red zone efficiency, goal-line efficiency (second), points allowed per game and points margin per game.

Vincent Rey will fill in admirably again. It's largely expected that the recently re-signed Rey will be the player who fills Burfict's shoes during this suspension, much like he did last season. Rey has been a valued member of the linebacking corps in recent seasons. Across the past two seasons, he has led the Bengals in tackles, mainly because Burfict wasn't on the field due to injuries. Through the first six games of the 2015 season, Rey had 57 tackles, including double-digit stops against Kansas City (15) and Seattle (13).