Cincinnati landed Joe Burrow with the top overall pick in last year’s draft, and he looked the part of a franchise quarterback before he suffered a season-ending knee injury 10 games into his rookie campaign. Burrow lost six games of development as a rookie after he averaged 45.3 dropbacks per game behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines. The Bengals saw just a two-win improvement from 2019 with their 4-11-1 record (9-7 ATS) and they missed the playoffs (-800) for the fifth consecutive season.
The Bengals allowed the 11th-most points per game (26.5) while scoring the fourth-fewest points per game (19.4) last season to finish 8-7-1 toward unders. Cincinnati finished with a disastrous 1-6-1 record in one-score contests and with an 0-4 mark in games decided by three scores or more so it’s not surprising they had the league’s fifth-worst point differential (-113).
Cincinnati’s 2021 win total (6.5) climbed by 1.5 victories thanks to another year with high draft picks and an active off-season. The Bengals fell a victory short of their 2020 win total despite a surprising two-game winning streak in Weeks 15-16 without Burrow in the lineup. Entering this season, I have the Bengals power rated as the 28th-best team in the NFL (+10000 to win Super Bowl LVI), as the 13th-best team in the AFC (+5000 to win the conference), and as the fourth-best team in the AFC North (+2000).
Spreads are first-look lines from the SuperBook, which were released in early June.
|4||Jacksonville Jaguars||-2.5||8:20 (Thurs)|
|5||Green Bay Packers||+3||1|
|8||@New York Jets||+2||1|
|11||@Las Vegas Raiders||+4.5||4:05|
|13||Los Angeles Chargers||+2.5||1|
|14||San Francisco 49ers||+3.5||1|
|17||Kansas City Chiefs||+7.5||1|
The Bengals have one of the toughest schedules in the league, but they have the minimum number of games in primetime with their TNF matchup against the Jaguars in Week 4. Cincinnati is also one of 11 teams that won’t face a single opponent coming off a bye. The Bengals are one of seven teams to host three straight home games with the Steelers, Chargers, and 49ers each coming to Cincinnati in Weeks 12-14. In fact, Cincinnati has just one road game in a six-week stretch in Weeks 9-15. The Bengals have matchups against the Jaguars, Lions, and Jets in a five-week stretch in Weeks 4-8 so they need to make some noise before the end of the season.
The Bengals will face the fifth-toughest schedule this season based on 2021 win totals (per Sharp Football), which includes a challenging stretch in the final seven weeks of the season. They’ll face seven straight opponents that are lined 8.5 wins or better in Weeks 12-18 with matchups against the Steelers, Chargers, 49ers, Broncos, Ravens, Chiefs, and Browns. The Bengals are also just one of three teams with three straight road games. They’ll be on the road against the Lions, Ravens, and Jets in Weeks 6-8.
Key Off-season Moves
|Riley Reiff (OT)||Ja’Marr Chase (WR)||A.J. Green (WR, Ari)|
|Quinton Spain (OG)||Jackson Carman (OT)||John Ross (WR, NYG)|
|Trey Hendrickson (DE)||Joseph Ossai (DE)||Bobby Hart (OT, Buf)|
|Larry Ogunjobi (DL)||Cameron Sample (DE)||B.J. Finney (C, Pit)|
|Mike Hilton (CB)||Tyler Shelvin (DT)||Carl Lawson (DE, NYJ)|
|Eli Apple (CB)||D’Ante Smith (OT)||Geno Atkins (DL)|
|Chidobe Awuzie (CB)||Mackensie Alexander (CB, Min)|
|Ricardo Allen (S)||William Jackson (CB, Was)|
|Cethan Carter (TE, Mia)|
|Giovani Bernard (RB, TB)|
|Shawn Williams (S, Ari)|
2021 Season Odds
Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook
|Season Win Total (O/U)||6.5 (+110/-133)|
Season Prop Movement
Win Total: 6.5 (-110) in late March to 6.5 (+110)
Super Bowl: +6600 in early February to +10000
Reasons to Bet Over the Season Win Total
The Bengals have had a miserable time trying to close out victories in their first two seasons under HC Zac Taylor. They’re 4-8 in games they’ve led at halftime the last two seasons for a pathetic .333 winning percentage. Meanwhile, none of the other 31 teams in the league have a record below .500 record and the rest of the league owns a combined 382-86 mark for a winning percentage of .816 (YIKES!). The Bengals could pick up a couple of extra wins just by being like the rest of the league and closing out more games that they lead at halftime.
Second-year QB Joe Burrow turned heads as a rookie last season before suffering his season-ending knee injury in his 10th game. He’s reportedly on pace to be ready for Week 1 after undergoing surgery in early December last year. Burrow has been working hard to improve his arm strength to improve his downfield passing, which was his biggest weakness from last season. He completed a league-worst 18.8% of his passes (9 of 48) that traveled 20+ yards downfield for just 293 yards.
Burrow has an exciting skill group to make a big jump as a downfield passer after they selected one of the best WR prospects in recent history in Ja’Marr Chase, who starred with Burrow at LSU. The Bengals could have one of the best WR trios in the league if Chase lives up to the hype and if Tee Higgins can build off his promising rookie campaign. Tyler Boyd has been a rock in the middle of the field for three seasons now, and he averaged a silly 6.9 catches per game with Burrow last season (stop passing on Boyd in the seventh round!). The Bengals have the potential to have a passing game that can hang with any aerial attack in the league.
Reasons to Bet Under the Season Win Total
The Bengals won 10+ games in every season in 2012-15 but the franchise has finished under .500 in five straight seasons since then. They’ve also finished in third or fourth place in the AFC North every year since 2016. They now own the longest streak of unders in the league as they’ve failed to top their season win total for five straight seasons. Taylor’s credentials were questioned at the time Mike Brown hired the Sean McVay disciple, and he’s done nothing to prove his detractors wrong. He owns a 6-25-1 (.203) record in his first two seasons as a head coach, which includes a 2-7-1 mark with Burrow, and Brown had to put a statement of support for Taylor at the conclusion of last season, which is rarely a great sign for the future.
Brown will want to see more than a two-win improvement from Taylor’s crew this season, but the Bengals still have one of the league’s weakest rosters despite filling some holes this off-season. Cincy’s biggest area of concern is offensive line play after they bypassed on protection for Burrow in Penei Sewell to upgrade his receiving corps. Their O-line’s performance this year will determine if this offense takes a step forward in 2021. The group’s performance will also be pivotal for Burrow’s health as he returns from his devastating knee injury from the end of November. Burrow had his plant knee rebuilt after he tore his ACL and MCL while also suffering partial tears of his PCL and meniscus. The Bengals need a healthy Burrow on the field to have any chance of going over their win total.
The Bengals pass rush also needs to make a big jump this season after they had the league’s worst pass rush last year. They finished with a league-low 17 sacks last season and they registered a sack on a league-low 3.0% of the dropbacks they faced. They’re hoping big free-agent signee Trey Hendrickson can help remedy the situation after he finished 3.5 sacks shy of Cincinnati’s overall sack total while playing 15 games last season. The big concern is that he’ll severely regress this season after he was aided by playing along one of the best defensive lines in the league last year in New Orleans.
Notable Player Props
Joe Burrow: passing yards (4250.5), passing TDs (24.5), MVP (+5000), Comeback POY (+600), most passing yards (+3400)
Fantasy Points Projection: passing yards (4075), passing TDs (29)
Best-Case Scenario: Burrow’s knee is back to full health for the start of the season and the passing attack finds another gear by replacing A.J. Green with rookie stud Ja’Marr Chase.
Worst-Case-Scenario: Burrow isn’t quite right for the start of the season and it takes him too long to shake the rust out from his ACL injury. It also doesn’t help that he continues to get pounded behind his porous offensive line.
Joe Mixon: rushing yards (1165.5), rushing + receiving yards (1350.5), OPOY (+3300), Comeback POY (+2000), most rushing yards (+1600)
Fantasy Points Projection: rushing yards (1090), rushing + receiving yards (1405)
Best-Case Scenario: Mixon takes full control of the backfield with Giovani Bernard out of the mix, and he finally shows his full skill set over a full season. behind an improved offensive line.
Worst-Case-Scenario: Zac Taylor continues to work in other backs into the mix behind Mixon, and he runs into too many brick walls at the line of scrimmage behind his still poor offensive line.
Ja’Marr Chase: receiving yards (1000.5), receiving TDs (7.5), OROY (+1200), most receiving yards (+2800)
Fantasy Points Projection: receiving yards (1035), receiving TDs (7)
Best-Case Scenario: Chase steps into a Bengals’ offense that has the fifth-most targets vacated from last season. He takes advantage of the mostly wasted 104 targets spent on A.J. Green last season, who owned a miserable 45.2% catch rate and an 11.1 YPR average.
Worst-Case-Scenario: Joe Burrow gets off to a slow start behind a bad offensive line after his devastating injury last season. Chase also struggles to establish himself as Burrow’s top weapon playing next to established studs Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.
Tee Higgins: receiving yards (1050.5)
Fantasy Points Projection: receiving yards (925)
Best-Case Scenario: Higgins and Joe Burrow build off their strong connection from their rookie seasons together, and Higgins is able to hold off rookie Ja’Marr Chase to remain the top option on the perimeter.
Worst-Case-Scenario: Higgins slips to the #3 WR role with Chase and Burrow rekindling their chemistry from their time together at LSU while Boyd continues to vacuum up targets in the middle of the field.
Tyler Boyd: receptions (81.5)
Fantasy Points Projection: receptions (72)
Best-Case Scenario: Boyd remains Joe Burrow’s go-to guy in the middle of the field after he averaged 6.9 catches per game with Burrow in the lineup for 10 games last season.
Worst-Case-Scenario: Boyd becomes the clear third fiddle in this passing attack behind Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins and his run of 75+ catches in 2018-20 comes to an end.
Cincinnati Bengals under 6.5 wins (-115, William Hill). Risk one unit to win .87 units — Cincinnati has gone under its win total a league-worst five straight seasons and I’m seeing few reasons why it would change this season outside of Joe Burrow taking a massive step in his development as a second-year player. I’m a big fan of Burrow and he’s on his way to potentially being one of the league’s better quarterbacks, but I’m not betting on him making major improvements in Year Two coming off a major knee injury. Burrow is in a race to be ready for the start of the year and he’s far from guaranteed to be back to his old playing ability in a timely fashion this season.
The Bengals also still have one of the worst rosters in the league around him, and their offensive and defensive line units are especially uninspiring. Cincinnati needed to overhaul its O-line this off-season and, instead, their big move was to add Riley Reiff at tackle. The Bengals should still have one of the worst pass rushes in the league despite adding Trey Hendrickson, who is a prime regression candidate off his career year in New Orleans. Zac Taylor was a questionable hire back in 2019 and he’s done little to prove he should be in one of the 32 top positions in the league. The Bengals are the clear cellar dwellers in a loaded AFC North and Taylor is no match for the likes of John Harbaugh, Mike Tomlin, and Kevin Stefanski. Cincinnati’s time is coming in the near future but this roster isn’t ready to make noise in the AFC North just yet.