Cincinnati Bengals 2021-2022 Season Preview, Odds and Win Totals

The Bengals' 2021 season hangs on second-year QB Joe Burrow's improvement and recovery from his ACL injury in 2020.
The Bengals' 2021 season hangs on second-year QB Joe Burrow's improvement and recovery from his ACL injury in 2020. / Cara Owsley/The Enquirer via Imagn

It’s typically a difficult task to track down a silver lining from a 4-11-1 season, but in the case of the Cincinnati Bengals, they found one in their now second-year quarterback. Before his season ending knee injury, Burrow looked the part of a No. 1 overall pick. He was accurate, poised in the pocket, and put up very solid numbers despite a terrible offensive line surrounding him.

Now in 2021, Burrow’s biggest challenge is two-fold: competing to improve in a very tough AFC North division, as well as the mental challenge of feeling fully recovered from a devastating injury. 

"It's frustrating right now, more so just not feeling like myself," Burrow told ESPN’s Ben Baby back in mid-August.

"I know I've put in the work to make my knee feel good, make my body feel ready for the season. It's just now trusting my abilities, trusting my work, trusting everything."

It’s not just Burrow that needs to show improvement, but Head Coach Zac Taylor as well. The 38-year old Sean McVay disciple is just 6-25-1 in his two seasons in Cincinnati. While Vegas expects a major improvement from the Bengals, setting their win total higher than his total victories in two years, anything short of that could land him on the hot seat in Year 3.

Cincinnati Bengals 2021 Team Outlook

Burrow did all he could a season ago, but the Bengals’ offensive line issues, along with a bottom 10 defense eventually led to their demise. Burrow was on pace for a 4,000+ passing yard season, throwing for 2,688 yards over 10 games to go along with 13 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He looks the part as a true franchise quarterback, but he’ll have to trust both himself in his injury recovery, as well as their revamped offensive line to not feel the jitters in the pocket the way he did a season ago.

Cincinnati’s line is better, but still comes in ranked 25th out of 32 at Pro Football Focus. The Bengals had a chance at this year’s top rated lineman in Oregon’s Penei Sewell, but went for familiarity instead with LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who played with Burrow during his record setting college season. The Bengals will run it back with Jonah Williams at left tackle, while signing former Vikings tackle Reilly Reiff to play on the right side. In the middle second round pick Jackson Carman will likely fill one of the guard spots after playing tackle at Clemson, with Trey Hopkins and Quinton Spain most likely to fill the remaining two spots.

At running back, Joe Mixon played just six games in 2020, but he was looking to be on pace for a 1,500 rushing yard season; which would have put him only behind Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook in 2020. Now healthy, the Bengals cut ties with longtime backup and receiving specialist Gio Bernard, giving Mixon even more of an opportunity to contribute on all three downs.

At wide receiver, the Bengals’ options paired up with a healthy Joe Burrow have a chance to be special. Chase could put up Justin Jefferson-type numbers in his first year, with a unique combination of speed, athleticism and production for the Tigers two seasons ago before opting out in 2020.

Burrow’s other two top options are also outstanding. Heading into his second season, Tee Higgins led Cincinnati in touchdowns (6) and receiving yards (908) last year, while Tyler Boyd led the Bengals in targets (110) and receptions (79). Longtime star A.J. Green signed with the Cardinals during the offseason, but Green had been a shadow of himself the previous few years with by far his lowest yards over his career.

Lastly, at tight end, C.J. Uzomah and Drew Sample will battle for the top spot, but both are more likely to help on the exterior of the line rather than collect a ton of passes.

Defensively, the Bengals upgraded their defensive end spot with the signing of Saints end Trey Hendrickson, with Carl Lawson heading to New York with the Jets. They also brought in former Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi to pair up with Sam Hubbard and D.J. Reader.

In the middle, Germaine Pratt needs a big season and while several Bengals racked up a ton of tackles last year, it was in large part to constantly being on the field and not being able to get off on third down situations. Cincinnati was also one of the worst defensive units against the run, ranking 29th in yards allowed.

The secondary for the Bengals will be mostly a new unit, as Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie come in to replace Mackensie Alexander and William Jackson III. Von Bell will be the lone returner at strong safety, but his safety-mate, Jessie Bates III is coming off a very strong season in which he led the team in solo tackles and interceptions.

Cincinnati Bengals 2021 NFL Draft

The Bengals went with an elite skill position player over an elite offensive line option in Chase over Sewell, giving Burrow a true No. 1 option to pair with Higgins on the outside and Tyler Boyd in the middle.

Jackson Carman, the offensive tackle out of Clemson, heads to Cincinnati in the second round, but will likely play on the interior in his first year. In the third, the Bengals took Joseph Ossai, a defensive end from Texas to add some life into an inconsistent pass rush. 

With three picks in Round 4, Cincinnati grabbed even more help on both sides of the line; selecting another defensive end in Cameron Sample out of Tulane, another LSU Tiger in defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin, and offensive tackle D’Ante Smith out of East Carolina.

Cincinnati Bengals Team Odds: Division (+2000), Conference (+7500), Super Bowl (+7500)

WynnBET Sportsbook has the Bengals at +2000; dead last in odds to win the division between Baltimore (+125) and Cleveland (+140) and Pittsburgh (+400). The Bengals’ odds have actually shifted from +1800 where they opened several weeks ago.

For the Super Bowl, the Bengals are all the way at +7500 odds for both the AFC Championship, as well as Super Bowl 56.

Cincinnati Bengals Regular Season Win Total: 6.5 WINS | OVER (+110), UNDER (-130)

Ben Heisler: 

I was incredibly bummed out to see Joe Burrow go down a season ago. He was such a joy to watch with his fearlessness in the pocket, his ability to make big play downfield throws, and how he could extend time with his mobility without really being much of a threat to take off and run.

If he’s fully healthy, along with the rest of their offensive playmakers, this is a dangerous offense. Burrow, Chase, Higgins and Boyd form a unique combination where all three receivers provide perfectly complementary skill sets. Joe Mixon, when he’s on the field, is a top 10 running back in football.

The problem still remains in the Bengals’ issues in protecting Burrow, as well as with so many changes defensively. They’ll try to win plenty of shootouts, and they’ll notch a few victories along the way, but it’s not going to be enough to contend for anything this year.

Cincinnati’s projected win total is higher than the combined number of victories for Zac Taylor in his first two seasons, so that has to be considered somewhat of a success, right? I still think they hit the under, in large part due to so many new faces, but also because of the competition that will come from a very difficult AFC North. The Bengals are on the up-and-up, but it’s just not their time as of yet.



Donnavan Smoot: 

The City of Cincinnati has to be worried… just a little bit. Not only is their No. 1 overall pick quarterback coming off an ACL injury, but their first-round pick this year can’t seem to catch the ball. Now, I think both of those things are going to work themselves out, but Bengals fans should prepare for things to be okay in future because this season is going to be another wash. 

Cincinnati has decent offensive pieces with Tee Higgins and Joe Mixon in the mix. If the Bengals can finally get a full, consistent season out of Mixon, then they could really be an interesting offense to watch. 

The Bengals still don’t have an offensive line, which is needed for Burrow to stay upright. He was hit at a historic rate last year and if that continues, watch out because Burrow can’t take hit after hit every game. 

On top of the lack of protection, Cincinnati is not good on defense. It was 26th in the league in yards allowed and 27th in turnovers. The entire league was able to move the ball easily on the Bengals and a major improvement isn’t going to happen this season. 

Burrow kept the Bengals competitive in a lot of games last season before they ultimately lost those games. They have something good there, but the supporting cast --  specifically on defense --  may not be enough to take steps forward, even small ones. 



Peter Dewey: 

As long as Joe Burrow is all systems go in Week 1, the Cincinnati Bengals will have a chance to compete in the AFC North, but they aren’t nearly as well-equipped as the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers or Cleveland Browns to do so. 

Cincinnati’s offensive line, which struggled in 2020, has a new member with the addition of Riley Reiff, but I’m not sold on Reiff completely changing the protection struggles that led the Bengals to finishing with ProFootballFocus’ 30th-ranked group in 2020. 

Instead of taking Penei Sewell, the top offensive lineman in this year’s draft class, Cincy opted for Burrow’s college teammate, wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, with the No. 5 overall pick. Chase joins a solid receiving corps of Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, but he’s struggled with drops so far during the preseason and in camp. 

The Bengals are going to need to hang their hat on the offensive end, with Burrow and this receiver group as well as running back Joe Mixon, if they want to sniff a .500 season or better under Zac Taylor, but I just don’t think they’ll be good enough to climb out of the basement in one of the NFL’s best divisions. 

Burrow has the makings of a franchise quarterback, but there is a lot more that needs to be fixed in Cincinnati before the Bengals start contending for division titles. 



Iain MacMillan:

I’m the leader of the Joe Burrow fan club, but I have to admit I’m a little bit concerned for him this season. Not only have reports come out that he’s still a little bit uncomfortable competing since his major knee injury last season, but I also don’t think the Bengals have built him the offense he needs around him.

I’m not talking about receivers. I recognize they drafted his former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase No. 5 overall in the NFL Draft, which is a cool story and will certainly make for a good connection between the two players, but I don’t think it was the right move to make.

I’m of the belief that you should build the team first, most notably the offensive line, and then bring in the weapons and the quarterback afterwards. The Bengals are going with the exact opposite approach. Burrow never had time to be comfortable in the pocket last year, and now with him returning from a major knee injury, protecting him from pass rushers will be even more important.

The Bengals offensive line allowed an average of three sacks per game last season, which ranked 27th in the NFL. They did nothing to address that issue except for signing a serviceable Riley Reiff from Minnesota, and using a second round pick on offensive tackle Jackson Carman. Burrow won’t last the season if he’s getting sacked three times a game or is forced to scramble as much as he did last season.

Then there’s the defense which allowed 5.1 yards per carry in 2020. An absolutely abysmal mark, that showed a lack of discipline and effort from an uninspiring squad. The Bengals continue to try to get sexier, but they’re disregarding the fundamentals of the team. I see them having another rough year in 2021.



Will the Cincinnati Bengals Make the Playoffs? | MISS THE PLAYOFFS (-700), MAKE THE PLAYOFFS (+400)

Ben Heisler: 

I have the under on 6.5 wins for Cincinnati this year, making a trip to the playoffs in a very crowded division is extremely unlikely. After sending three teams to the postseason a year ago, I think the AFC North beats up on each other and only ends up sending one (Baltimore) this year.

The Bengals will be a really fun team to watch if you like up-and-down, offensive-minded football. But they’re not stopping anyone either.

Maybe the breakout happens in Burrow’s third season with more experience, but this is not the year a playoff trip happens for Cincinnati, as they look for their first playoff win since 1990.


Donnavan Smoot:

I said it earlier and I’ll say it again. Bengals fans need to prepare for things to be good in the future. This is not going to be the season to make the playoffs. The AFC North has a lot of talent and two teams I feel are locks to make the playoffs. If the Bengals make the playoffs, the AFC North would have to have the best division of all-time -- literally-- and that isn’t the case. 

I do want to end this on a good note and say that the Bengals have the infrastructure to be a good team. If the defense can fix itself up, maybe next year could be the year they make the jump. 


Peter Dewey: 

The AFC North had three playoff teams last season, and two of them, the Ravens and Browns, seem like locks to make the field once again in 2021. 

The Steelers are due to regress after finishing last season with a 1-4 record before losing to Browns in the wild card round. That could leave some room for the Bengals to move up a spot in the division, but even that is unlikely given the Steelers’ talent on the defensive side of the ball. 

Cincy has some really solid young pieces, but until they prove that they can avoid picking in the top five of the draft every year, they aren’t going to sniff a playoff spot. Count me out on the Bengals being a team that can go from worst to a playoff spot in 2021.


Iain MacMillan:

Much like the New York Jets and Detroit Lions, there’s absolutely no question that the Cincinnati Bengals will finish last in their division this season. At best, they’ll take a small step forward to being a .500 football team, and at worst their going to hurt Burrow’s progression and take a step backwards.

If they continue to refuse to address their offensive and defensive line issues, they will continue to be a bad football team. It’s truly as simple as that.

They will not be in the postseason this year. Someone needs to save my guy Joe Burrow.


Every day from the start of NFL Training Camp, the BetSided team of Ben Heisler, Donnavan Smoot, Peter Dewey and Iain MacMillan are breaking down the win totals, playoff and Super Bowl odds for every team in the NFL.

Up next, we preview the betting outlook for the Los Angeles Rams and check out our earlier team-by-team betting previews.

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