The Bengals look different in many spots than they did at this time last year. Unfortunately, those changes have not been enough to convince the NFL community that they are an improved team.
In a variety of different power rankings, people have said Cincinnati could end up worse than they did last year. NBC Sportshas the Bengals a little higher than other sites, listing Cincinnati as the 28th best team in the league. NFL.com has slotted Cincinnati in as their 30th best team this year.
These two rankings are fairly indicative of how the football landscape views the Bengals but I believe Cincinnati will be better than expected.
The Bengals have had a few tough years in recent history and picked in the top five in each of the last two drafts. It can be hard to remember the days when Cincinnati was going to the playoffs continually and competing within the NFC North.
I still believe this team is a year or two away from that level of success, but 2021 should see a significant step in the right direction. Here are three reasons the Bengals will do better in 2021 than you think.
1. Bengals should revert to mean in close games
Over the past several years, the Bengals have struggled to win close games. In 2018, Cincinnati had six games that were decided by seven points or less. In that year Cincinnati split those games, winning three and losing three.
The 2019 season saw a drop for the Bengals in their ability to win close games. Cincinnati had seven games end with scores less than seven points apart, but this year they were not able to win any of them, going 0-7 in close games.
2. Bengals offense should be one of the best in the NFL
Last year, there were a lot of pieces in place that made the offense exciting, but everything revolved around Joe Burrow. Tee Higgins was a second-round rookie with limited expectations, the offensive line was a mess, and A.J. Green was an aging veteran.
While the offensive line is still a mess, this year there seem to be more positives throughout the team.
The wide receiver group looks to be solidified with Tyler Boyd in the slot, and Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase on the outsides. Chase enters this season as a highly regarded rookie who should be able to make a big impact from day one.
Joe Mixon is still one of the best running backs in the league, and Joe Burrow has now had a full year to continue learning and developing the mental part of his game.
The biggest question mark will be Burrow’s ability to recover physically and mentally, but once he turns that corner this offense will be clicking. The talent on this side of the ball should help the Bengals turn the tide in a few of those close games this year.
3. The defense looks like it is improved for the Bengals
Going into the 2020 season, Cincinnati was regarded as having a bad defense per PFF. They made it a point to get better on that side of the ball, however.
The Bengals were able to bring in D.J. Reader last year who was supposed to make all the difference in stopping the run, but the linebackers and secondary were a big mix of unknowns and concerns. Things went from bad to worse last year when Reader was injured early in the year, and many of the veteran players on the Bengals did not contribute.
This year, Cincinnati still has some of the same concerns but has seemed to improve slightly in the offseason. Out of five tiers, Cincinnati has been given the honor of moving up into the fourth tier. While this in no way says that the Bengals have a good defense, improvement will be beneficial for a team looking to make it out of the bunch of worst teams in the league.
If everyone is able to stay healthy Cincinnati could have a lower-middle-ranked defense. This won’t be enough to win a Super Bowl, or likely get them to the playoffs, but it will be enough to win a few more games.
If we take six or seven games that were close in the last few seasons and win half this year, Cincinnati could be on pace for right around a seven-win season. That’s at least progress in the right direction for this franchise.