Yes, the Cincinnati Bengals can become a decent futures bet in the NFL come 2021. So, you won’t need to spend a few dollars on the longshot Bengals for the next football season if they hit on a few cylinders I’ll describe below.
And they showed flashes of what they can do in 2020 with wins over the then 11-2 Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans. Despite a 4-11-1 record in 2020, they beat two playoff teams—one without franchise quarterback Joe Burrow.
Hey, it’s a start! Overall, the Bengals have little going for them. However, if they improve their offensive line, stop the run, and land a blue-chip pass rusher, this team will be in better shape than advertised.
This post will break down what the Cincinnati Bengals must do to become a decent futures bet in 2021. Let’s get started.
Get Joe Burrow a Solid Left Tackle
The Bengals gave up 48 sacks all season, including 32 to Joe Burrow. Eventually, the carnage took its toll on the then-rookie quarterback, and he missed the rest of the season with a major knee injury. Burrow started just 10 games, so it shows how often his jersey met turf.
To prevent Burrow from falling into NFL Draft doldrums like former first overall picks Tim Couch and David Carr, neither of whom had a chance with their abysmal offensive lines, the Bengals should learn from history.
Both Carr and Couch could have had marquee careers. Instead, Carr lasted just five seasons as a starting quarterback, having spent between 2007 and 2012 as a journeyman backup. Couch also lasted just five seasons, with the final two in a timeshare role with Kelly Holcomb.
Couch would never play another meaningful down in the NFL after comeback attempts with the Green Bay Packers in 2004 and the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2007.
No, Burrow is not JaMarcus Russell or Jameis Winston. He’s a hard worker, and he deserves credit for his ability to perform after the carnage he had taken in 2020. But even so, lack of protection will set Burrow off on a Couch-Carr type of NFL career.
And historically, the Bengals are notorious for their first-round picks, either flaming out or losing faith in the franchise. David Klingler didn’t last. Akili Smith didn’t last. And Carson Palmer grew tired of the team’s perpetual mismanagement.
So, for the Bengals to stand a chance in the AFC North and to even become a favorable over/under bet, they need a franchise left tackle to at least keep Burrow’s uniform clean half the time.
Find Run Stoppers
The Bengals were one of the worst in the league at stopping the run in 2020. They allowed 148 rushing yards per game, for 5.1 yards per carry. They ranked 29th in the league in rushing defense, were 25th in rushing attempts against, 29th in yards per game, and 31st in yards per attempt.
Teams ran all over the Bengals in 2020 and, worse yet, they play in the same division as the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns. Both of them are among the league’s best in running the football.
Forget about picking the Bengals for anything but a viable over/under futures candidate unless they find players who can stop the Ravens and Browns. If they overhaul the rushing defense, they can at least threaten Cleveland and Baltimore and perhaps become a surprise bet for the AFC North.
But only if they spend their entire offseason finding players willing to play for one of the NFL’s least valuable and relevant franchises. And that’s hard to do. For the Bengals to find willing players, they will turn to the NFL Draft and hope they hit.
Improve the Pass Rush
The Bengals were not only abysmal at stopping the run in 2020, but they also couldn’t get to the quarterback.
How bad was the pass rush?
They had just 17 sacks all season, which ranked 32nd in the league. They were 31st in sack percentage at 3.0%, and even worse, they ranked in the middle of the league in terms of blitz percentage, at 30.9%, 17th to be exact.
While blitzing 30.9% of the time, it should show you it’s inexcusable for the team to have logged just 17 sacks in a 16-game season.
Like the Carolina Panthers, the Bengals must look to solve several issues on defense, and it probably won’t happen all in a single offseason. So, the team must pick their improvement—improve the pass rush or the run defense?
It’s an obscure one to most of you, but they know who they are playing in 2021. They also know that they need to find ways to stop their divisional rivals from running all over them.
So, if the Bengals are playing run-heavy teams in 2021, they need to focus on stopping the run before they worry about the pass rush—at least it will make opponents one-dimensional. And after their big upset win over the Steelers, it should show the Bengals have life when they stop the run.
Perhaps, find the run stuffers first and the pass rushers later.
From there, the Bengals should be in the market for better football in 2021. Let’s not get too excited; they have a lot to do before they become a decent futures bet to win the AFC North, making the playoffs, and partying like it’s 1981.
But they may become a smart over/under bet. And that’s more than what they’ve done in recent memory.
Play Classic Football
What is classic football?
The Bengals can look to the Ravens and Browns, and even the Pittsburgh Steelers of old to discover what they need to do to win in this league. And it’s always been such, even if the NFL became a passing league for a while.
But if the Ravens and Browns have proved a few things, and ditto for any teams employing dual-threat quarterbacks, it’s that to win in the NFL, you need to run the ball.
Look at the Ravens, who have been one of the NFL’s best at running the ball, and they became one of the league’s best teams and hottest bets to win it all. Ditto for the Browns, who ended about a thousand droughts in a single night in Pittsburgh after posting a decades-long best 11-5 record.
The Bengals have a decent two-back committee in Joe Mixon and Gio Bernard. They need one more for a complete committee. And having such a fine three-headed rushing attack will take a lot of pressure off Joe Burrow and the offensive line if the latter remains shaky in pass protection.
And as mentioned, and as seen in the NFL, the run-first mentality is a proven winner. And the Bengals only need to look into their own division to figure that one out. Even the league’s best passing teams have decent rushing attacks, so go figure.
As famed Ohio State Buckeyes head coach once said, “Three things can happen when you throw the ball, and two of them are bad.”
Such a quote still holds true today.
Exercise Continuity in the Franchise
The Bengals are one of the most poorly-run NFL franchises. It takes a lot of effort to go 32 seasons since your last playoff win. Get this; the author of this post wasn’t even born when the Bengals last won a playoff game.
It takes a lot of effort, dysfunction, and turmoil to accomplish such a feat.
But if there is one thing the Bengals do better than most NFL franchises, it’s that they don’t panic and hit the reset button when they otherwise shouldn’t. They love continuity and, for that, it ironically makes them one of the league’s most stable franchises.
Look at Zac Taylor, the team’s head coach. In two seasons, Taylor is 6-25-1. Just about every other NFL team would have shown him the door by now. But the Bengals and owner Mike Brown does not. Brown realizes it takes over two seasons to build a team, especially when the team lacked talent in every facet of the game during Taylor’s first season on the job.
Not to mention, he had to scramble to assemble any kind of staff, because Brown and the front office took their time during the hiring process.
So, expect stability to perhaps lead to improved things for the Bengals. The offense and defense will stick with the same systems, so there is a lot of familiarity heading into 2021. And that gives the Bengals an advantage over a lot of other NFL teams.
The Bengals probably won’t be anything better than a solid over/under bet in 2021 unless they have some magnificent roster overhaul planned that we aren’t expecting.
However, they are in a prime position to become a hotter NFL futures bet in 2021 by taking the next steps forward and embracing a culture of stability the NFL universe knows the team for.
What are your thoughts on the Bengals? Are they a better-than-advertised futures bet in 2021? Let us know your take in the comments.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. …