Bengals Expectations: Bottom of the barrel or division champs?

An in-depth analysis of the Cincinnati Bengals 2021 team, going in-detail with the offense, defense, and special teams.


Hopes for the season rest squarely on the shoulders of second-year quarterback Joe Burrow.

Joe Burrow 2020 NFL Draft Profile & Combine Results |
Burrow during the 2020 CFB playoffs, celebrating one of his many touchdowns

Heading into 2020, the Cincinnati Bengals were expected to make a gigantic leap from the previous season. With a revamped offense starring rookie QB Joe Burrow at the helm and a defense that was heavily addressed in the offseason with key free agent signings such as Trae Waynes and DJ Reader, the team was expected to make a jump in the win column. While the Bengals did double their wins, it was a disastrous season for all fans of the franchise. Joe Burrow suffered an ACL and MCL tear in only his tenth game, Trae Waynes missed the entire season with a torn pectora muscle, and Joe Mixon played only five games. However, some great moments did shine through the dreadful season. In the games he did play, Burrow looked like a seasoned veteran and was on pace to shatter rookie QB records before his injury. The unexpected win against the Titans revealed what the team’s potential really was, with the offense clicking together and the defense looking like a solidified unit. Overall, a lot was to be taken out of the past season, and it sets a precedent for 2021.

To start, the Bengals 2021 draft class is considered by all to be pretty solid. Most critics and analysts give it a B+, which is great for a team that passed on its biggest need (OT) in the first round for a shiny new WR that Burrow can have fun with. Although I absolutely love Ja’Marr Chase, the explosiveness, and LSU connection he has with Burrow, it seemed like just an unnecessary add-on pick.

Rookie (now sophomore) receiver Tee Higgins broke out last year, proving that he could be an excellent first or second option in the offense were the Bengals to take an OL with the fifth overall pick. The franchise attempted to patch up the wound by taking Clemson guard Jackson Carman, but he has been uninspiring in preseason.

Carman was expected to start, but he lost his job to Xavier Su’a-Filo by showing up to practice out of shape and even starting a fight. Perhaps their best pick in the draft was third round pick Texas DE/LB Joseph Ossai, who was projected in some mocks to go as early as the late first. Ossai shined in the preseason, with a sack on Tom Brady in the first game and several QB pressures throughout. Unfortunately, Ossai suffered a harsh knee injury and will miss the entirety of the 2021 season. The rest of the draft was a mixed bag, with three defensive linemen, two offensive linemen, a kicker, and a halfback.

New Bengals K Evan McPherson Kicked A Bottle Cap Off A Bottle With His Insanely Accurate Kick (VIDEO) | Total Pro Sports
McPherson kicks a football to knock a bottle cap off of a Gatorade

Those late-round players should not make a giant impact this year, minus the kicker out of Florida, Evan McPherson. He will start at the most important position on special teams, and the organization has high hopes for the young stud. McPherson started as a freshman and hit 149/150 extra points in college along with a superb 85% on field goals. For comparison, Justin Tucker was 89% last year. All in all, the Bengals may not have to worry about a missed field goal from roughly thirty yards to tie a game this year. (COUGH, FAT RANDY)

The Bengals have the sixth toughest schedule this year (based off opponent 2020 win percentage), and play several Super Bowl contenders such as Chiefs, Packers, Ravens (twice), and Browns (twice). These games are hardly winnable for the stripes, but fans should hold out hope. These will be great showcase games where the Bengals can be tested in all facets of their team.

The offense should see a gigantic improvement with upgrades all around. Obviously, Joe Burrow is back and ready to toss the rock again to fifth overall pick Ja’Marr Chase. Outside of Chase, the receiving core is better than ever. Tee Higgins is coming off of a great year, even with horrid QB play for 6.5 games. Tyler Boyd had his usual type year, thriving in the slot. Auden Tate and Mike Thomas should have solid roles as well, serving as excellent fourth and fifth options. TE University graduate and participant CJ Uzomah will also be back, coming off of a torn Achilles. This will limit former second round pick Drew Sample’s snaps, and Bengals fans will rejoice. The offensive line position has also been addressed in the offseason, with additions such as Riley Reiff at guard and offensive line coach Frank Pollack returning. A key player to look out for on this offense will be Ja’Marr Chase at receiver, as the question to whether his preseason struggles will carry on to the season have yet to be answered.

Bengals S Vonn Bell On Hit That Led To JuJu Smith-Schuster Fumble: 'I Seen 19' - Steelers Depot
Bell absolutely rocks JuJu during a Bengals win

The defense should also see an improvement, especially at DE and defensive back. The loss of Carl Lawson to the Jets in free agency is tough, but the signing of Trey Hendrickson from the Saints should help ease the pain. The d-line features the return of DJ Reader as well, coming back from a season-ending quad injury. The linebacker position was probably the least addressed in the offseason, and will not see much change from last season. Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt will start once again, leading the 4-3 defensive scheme. The loss of third-round pick Joseph Ossai to injury will burn his development, but the position should still be okay. Cornerback has seen lots of change from the past season, as the loss of former first round pick William Jackson to the Washington Football Team hurts significantly. However, the Bengals more than replaced him with the additions of Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton from free agency. Awuzie was less than stellar with Dallas last season, but he has shown flashes of great play and good room for improvement over his short four-season career. On the other hand, Mike Hilton was one of the best slot corners last year, and his coverage will be a significant boost for a defense that struggled in that particular area a season ago. Going farther back in the secondary, the safety situation is looking incredible, featuring possibly the best duo in the league with Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell. Bates is in the running for best in the league at his position, and Bell is a fine player that had some great moments last year.

All in all, Bengals fans should be excited. It’s a fun team with more than enough talent to make Bengals games watchable again. A record of 6-11 or 7-10 should be expected this season, and anything less should lead to the exit of Zac Taylor.