The 2021 NFL football season is finally upon us. It’s the last opportunity to predict the Bengals’ 2021 record, so no time like the present. The Bengals are now past the offseason and preseason period and we have a pretty good idea of who they’re going to trot out in the 2021 season. The hope is additions like RT Riley Reiff, DE Trey Hendrickson, CB Chidobe Awuzie, WR Ja’Marr Chase, K Evan McPherson, and many more will solve many of the issues that plagued the Bengals’ 2020 season.
If you keep up with The Battle of Ohio Podcast, you’ll know I feel the Bengals’ record could have been SO much better in 2020 with upgrades at kicker, offensive line, and pass rush. Looking through last year’s results, you can easily point out a minimum of two losses and a tie where the final outcome was directly affected by Randy Bullock’s poor performance.
There was the game against the Giants where the Bengals were set up near field goal range at the end. But, the offensive line allowed a 13-yard sack fumble on Brandon Allen to kill any hope of a victory. The offensive line allowed at least six sacks in Week 5 against the Ravens and Week 13 against the Dolphins. Don’t forget the legendary 37-34 loss to the Browns at home in Week 7. Baker Mayfield had all day to throw nearly every time he dropped back to pass. Joe Burrow was sacked four times and fumbled three times.
I’m rambling at this point, and this could really be it’s own article. The point is, the Bengals have made massive improvements in key areas. On the offensive line alone, replacing RT Bobby Hart with Reiff and OL coach Jim Turner with Frank Pollack should yield massive dividends. So, it seems reasonable to believe the Bengals should at least double their win total from last year. Here’s what they’ll be dealing with this season:
Week 1 vs Minnesota Vikings
A quick look at both rosters makes you think this one could go either way. Depending on who you ask, they’ll give you different answers. But, we know it’s expected to be a shootout. The Bengals’ 2021 record could be heavily influenced on whether they get off to a hot start or not. Personally, I think they will. The improved defense should slow the Vikings’ offense down enough at first to allow Burrow the time they desperately need to gel.
Prediction: 65% WIN (1-0)
Week 2 @ Chicago Bears
Right now, it seems like former Bengals QB Andy Dalton is the starter in Chicago. But, that could easily change before Week 2 if the Bears struggle out of the gate against a stout Rams defense. Dalton already got his revenge against the Bengals last year with the Cowboys, so I doubt the Bears would get much of a boost by playing him. That said, I could see Justin Fields starting if things don’t go great for Dalton against a tough Rams defense. The Bears looked like a completely different team with Fields under center, so if he does get the start in this game it could be a rough day for the Bengals’ defense.
Prediction: 60% LOSS (1-1)
Week 3 @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Laugh if you want, but I really don’t see why everyone assumes the Steelers will be good this year. Roethlisberger looked over the hill last time we saw him, and the OL looked mostly bad in preseason. Not to mention, TJ Watt is currently holding out on top of the defense’s mass exodus this offseason. If the Steelers do get it together this year, I don’t see it happening early. I think the Bengals’ 2021 record gets a big boost here in what will likely be viewed as an upset.
Prediction: 55% WIN (2-1)
Week 4 vs Jacksonville Jaguars
Burrow v Lawrence part II is getting a lot of hype because it’s on Thursday night and everyone assumes the Bengals and Jaguars are in the same stage of rebuilding. I don’t. The Jaguars’ defense is a huge wild card and didn’t show a lot of promise in the preseason. Trevor Lawrence didn’t look particularly comfortable either. I’m sure he’ll be fine in the long run, but it might take some time to get going. Burrow and the Bengals, by contrast, should be able to capitalize on their momentum if I’m right about a potential hot start.
Prediction: 65% WIN (3-1)
Week 5 vs Green Bay Packers
All good things must come to an end. This is probably where the Bengals’ hot start runs into a wall. A 4-0 start for a team that has won six and a half games in the last two years seems idealistic. But, realistically, I think the Bengals being ready to compete with a championship caliber Packers roster sporting reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers is going to be too tall of an order in Week 5.
Prediction: 75% LOSS (3-2)
Week 6 @ Detroit Lions
Unless the Lions bite Burrow’s kneecap off, this should be a game the Bengals can win regardless of how their season is going at this point. The Lions made a bunch of moves this offseason that could pay off in a few years, but I see them competing for the No. 1 overall pick this year.
Prediction: 75% WIN (4-2)
Week 7 @ Baltimore Ravens
I see a lot of winnable games for the Bengals early in the season, but things start getting rough around this point. With all of the improvements to the run defense, I do believe the Bengals could steal a game from the Ravens this year. But, I doubt it happens in Baltimore.
Prediction: 65% LOSS (4-3)
Week 8 @ New York Jets
I don’t see the Jets being the same pushover they were in 2020. New head coach Robert Salah and rookie quarterback Zach Wilson arrived in New York with much fanfare, and for good reasons. So far, it seems the Jets were right to take Wilson, who looked great in the preseason. I think this one improves the Bengals’ 2021 record with a hard fought win here. But, I wouldn’t be shocked to see this one go the other way if the Jets get going faster than expected.
Prediction: 55% WIN (5-3)
Week 9 vs Cleveland Browns
We saw last year what duels between Joe Burrow and Baker Mayfield can look like. Each team scored 30+ points in both games as both quarterbacks brought their A-games. I expect most games between these two teams in this era to look like those two games. While I don’t see the Bengals coming out on the losing end both times this year, I do think the first meeting will fall the Browns’ way.
Prediction: 55% LOSS (5-4)
Week 10 BYE
Week 11 @ Las Vegas Raiders
The Bengals tend to struggle when traveling to this far west. That said, I have no idea what the Raiders are right now. I tend to like Jon Gruden as a coach more than most, but even I have to admit this feels like a team without direction right now. But, like I said, the Bengals don’t typically do well out west, they tend to struggle after bye weeks, and they usually lose some very winnable games no matter how good they are.
Prediction: 51% LOSS (5-5)
Week 12 vs Pittsburgh Steelers
I really can’t overstate how bad I think the Steelers could be this year. Everyone assumes Ben Roethlisberger will cowboys his way into a ‘riding into the sunset’ type season and Tomlin will magically avoid ever having a losing season in his career. I think that’s silly, and this Steelers team looks like an absolute mess. You can’t ever guarantee anything in these division games, but after putting the Steelers away in Pittsburgh earlier this season I don’t see them dropping one at home, assuming Burrow has stayed healthy.
Prediction: 60% WIN (6-5)
Week 13 vs Los Angeles Chargers
The Bengals were a questionable pass interference call against AJ Green away from beating the Chargers in Week 1 last year. Even after that travesty, they were still ready to take the game to overtime until kicker Randy Bullock suffered a case of devastating “leg cramps.” This time around, it’s going to be a much more ready Joe Burrow vs Justin Herbert in a game we all wanted to see last year. Evan McPherson won’t get leg cramps in this game, and the Bengals’ 2021 record will keep getting better.
Prediction: 65% WIN (7-5)
Week 14 vs San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers have one of the most complete rosters in the NFL, when healthy. You could barely tell at points last year due to all the injuries. But, if you looked closely, you’d see a team that managed to compete almost every week. Imagine what Kyle Shanahan can do when his players are healthy this yea. I don’t necessarily expect them to be a juggernaut. But, I can imagine the return of players like Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, and Raheem Mostert making the Bengals’ lives difficult, especially if Trey Lance is on a roll at this point in thee season.
Prediction: 65% LOSS (7-6)
Week 15 @ Denver Broncos
I could see the 2021 Denver Broncos being very similar to the 2020 San Francisco 49ers. That is, a team that has largely put the right pieces together around a mediocre QB room but could end up derailed by circumstance by the end of the season. I see Joe Burrow easily outplaying either Teddy Bridgewater or Drew Lock. At this point, the Bengals’ 2021 record has them in the playoff race, and these are the kind of games you have to win to prove you’re worthy of that.
Prediction: 55% WIN (8-6)
Week 16 vs Baltimore Ravens
I said earlier I think the Bengals are going to take one from Baltimore this year, right? Where here it is. This is where we get to see all those run defense improvements pay off. Remember last year in their first meeting when the Bengals’ defense looked really good against the Ravens for most of the first quarter before the flood gates opened? I do, and I’d love to see what a more confident Bengals team with better pieces can do around a fully functioning Joe Burrow. I think the Bengals take this one.
Prediction: 55% WIN (9-6)
Week 17 vs Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs are, currently, everything the Cincinnati Bengals are trying to be. Whether you believe the Bengals can get there at some point, I think we can all agree they’re not there yet. The Chiefs are likely fighting for the No. 1 seed and the AFC’s only playoff bye, so this will probably be a tough one for Zac Taylor’s young Bengals.
Prediction: 70% LOSS (9-7)
Week 18 @ Cleveland Browns
I think everyone would love to see another classic Burrow vs Mayfield game here for the AFC North division title. Unfortunately, as optimistic as I am about the Bengals’ chances to be good in 2021, I don’t think they’re quite ‘win the AFC North’ good. Maybe next year. This year, I think the Browns will have clinched the AFC North crown by Week 18 and will be resting their starters this week. The Bengals, on the other hand, could be fighting for the last AFC Wild Card spot with this record. Look for the good guys to take this one without much resistance.
Prediction: 70% WIN (10-7)
So there you have it. Call me crazy, but I believe in what Zac Taylor has been doing. I think it will show this year. I’m predicting the Bengals’ 2021 record to be 10-7. I think you could expect as many as 12 wins if things go perfectly (which they never do). Perhaps as few as 8 wins if the system still doesn’t work. If the bottom falls out, who knows how bad it could get.
Assuming a normal set of circumstances, I think the Bengals are poised to compete for a playoff spot this year. If they don’t, Taylor’s seat could be red-hot by season’s end. But, if they do, watch out for this team going forward.