The Cincinnati Bengals were one drive away from taking home their first Super Bowl win. Despite that narrow defeat, Cincinnati has a great, young core on offense headlined by quarterback Joe Burrow. Are Burrow’s Bengals the new kings of the AFC North? Or, will they fall victim to the dreaded Super Bowl hangover? Let’s take a closer look at the Bengals:
Opening Win Total: 10
Current Win Total: 10
Schedule Difficulty: Hard
The 2022 campaign has already had a bit of a rocky start for the Bengals, as franchise centerpiece Joe Burrow underwent surgery for his appendix earlier this month. Burrow is expected to be ready for opening day, but this issue has certainly led to an unorthodox August for Burrow and his Bengals.
Per Sports Info Solutions, the 2021 Bengals offense was:
- 7th in net passing yards
- 23rd in rushing yards
- 7th in points per game
After blowing the doors off the league down the stretch last year, Joe Burrow is already a superstar quarterback heading into his third season. Mike Tannenbaum has Burrow in his top tier of NFL quarterbacks. The Bengals are in a unique position to win right now, while having the foundation of elite quarterback play for the next decade or more with Burrow. You could count the teams in that position on one hand.
Burrow is supported by one of, if not the best wide receiver trio in football. That group is headlined by last year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year and Burrow’s LSU teammate, Ja’Marr Chase. Brett Favre has Chase as one of the top four wide receivers in the league. The second-best player in that group, Tee Higgins, would be the best wide receiver on at least a dozen different teams. Tyler Boyd has at least 800 yards receiving in each of the last four seasons, breaching 1,000 yards twice. No one else in the league has a third wide receiver option like that. The Bengals indirectly swapped tight end C.J. Uzomah for former Raven and Falcon Hayden Hurst. That change is more of a lateral move from a talent perspective.
One of the knocks on Bengals head coach Zac Taylor is that his offense isn’t pass-centric enough. It will be interesting to see if that changes this season now that Burrow is a full year removed from the knee injury that cost him most of the 2020 campaign. If Taylor continues to be closer to balanced on offense, Joe Mixon is a talented running back that’s coming off his best season as a pro. With Mixon as a quality headliner, Cincinnati still has good depth at the position in Samaje Perine and Chris Evans.
The only issue with the Bengals offense last season was their offensive line. This offseason they added a whole new right side in former Bucs guard Alex Cappa and former Cowboys tackle La’el Collins. Former Patriot Ted Karras will take over at center. Last year’s No. 46 overall pick, Jackson Carman, will move from right guard to compete for the starting left guard spot with rookie Cordell Volson. Jonah Williams, 2019’s No. 11 overall pick, will continue to man the left tackle position for the Bengals. This unit has shifted from a liability into a very solid group this offseason, making the Bengals even more dangerous and complete on offense.
Per Sports Info Solutions, the 2021 Bengals defense was:
- 5th in rushing yards allowed
- 27th in passing yards allowed
- 12th in sacks, 16th in hurries, 16th in knockdowns, and 13th in pressures
- 17th in points allowed per game
All-Pro safety Jessie Bates recently ended his holdout. Bates is one of the two best players on this defense and the centerpiece of the Bengals secondary. If Bates were to miss time, this secondary would be in play as one of the most talent-poor groups in the league. There is no obvious reason to anticipate this group taking a significant step forward.
The Bengals have a good, but not great pass rush led by the still underrated Trey Hendrickson. Hendrickson has 27.5 sacks over the past two seasons, breaching double-digits first with the Saints and then the Bengals during that span. Edge Sam Hubbard and defensive tackle B.J. Hill are solid role players that provide some disruption as pass rushers. Second-year edge Joseph Ossai missed his entire rookie campaign with a knee injury. Ossai represents the best chance for the Bengals pass rush taking a step forward this season.
Defensive tackle D.J. Reader is your classic big-bodied run stuffer on what was a very good Bengals run defense last year. Expecting this group to be in the top five against the run again this season is a lofty expectation, but not out of the question.
The Bengals have a difficult schedule, but their first nine games are manageable: vs. Steelers, at Cowboys, at Jets, vs. Dolphins (TNF), at Ravens (SNF), at Saints, vs. Falcons, at Browns (MNF), vs. Panthers. At first glance that doesn’t look half bad, as the Cowboys are the only opponent with a double-digit win total during this stretch. That said, the Bengals get two sets of back-to-back road games. The second of those, at Baltimore and at New Orleans, is a real tough draw. All in all, the Bengals could reasonably enter their Week 10 bye with a 6-3 or better record.
There are no easy outs after the Bengals exit their bye: at Steelers (SNF), at Titans, vs. Chiefs, vs .Browns, at Buccaneers, at New England, vs. Bills (MNF), vs. Ravens. Cincinnati gets two more sets of back-to-back road games, first against two very physical teams in the Steelers and Titans. From there, the Bengals have three games against teams with double-digit win totals in six weeks. That doesn’t include their second game with the Ravens or the Browns with Deshaun Watson at quarterback. When you look at it through that lens, the Bengals close out the year with five high-end opponents and a trip to New England.
The 2021 Bengals went 3-1 in one-score games during the playoffs but 4-5 during the regular season. Let’s call that a wash from a regression slant.
Dating back to his days at LSU, Joe Burrow is one of the most consistently accurate quarterbacks I’ve ever seen. As long as he’s healthy and eventually extended, the Bengals are going to be a factor for a long time. If Zac Taylor decides to be more aggressive and fast paced on offense this season, Cincinnati could realistically have the highest performing offense in football. Any bull case on the Bengals is built on Joe Burrow and his supporting cast on offense.
Any bear case is built on the Bengals having an average defense and an absolutely brutal second half schedule. The way it’s laid out the Bengals may have to beat both the Titans and the Patriots on the second leg of a two-game road trip to beat their win total. I have the Bengals at exactly 10-7, which means I have them as a push. If forced I’d have to lean towards the under, given Cincinnati’s beatable defense and brutal second half schedule.