Bengals face tough historical odds to post a winning record next season
There’s no denying the Cincinnati Bengals have one of the most difficult paths back to relevance in the NFL. After all, they call arguably the league’s toughest division, the AFC North, home. The Pittsburg Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, two historically great teams, along with the Cleveland Browns, an organization revitalized by a brilliant young coach, will serve as major hurdles for Zac Taylor and co.
Making matters even worse, history isn’t on the side of the franchise that calls Paul Brown Stadium home. As pointed out by ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, recent data suggests that (roughly) only one in four teams that secure five or fewer victories in a season go on to piece together a winning campaign in the following year.
In 2020, nine franchises found themselves below that bar, meaning, according to history, only two will find a way to bounce back by the time next season rolls around. The Bengals certainly have some factors trending in their favor to beat the odds and post a winning record in 2021. However, there’s plenty working against them as well.
The aspects working against the Bengals
As previously mentioned, Cincinnati is battling things out in the AFC North. If they want to win a majority of their games next season, they’re at least going to have to put up a fight against the trio of outstanding opponents residing in the division.
Before even getting to next season though, the Bengals’ front office has plenty of work to do in the coming months. Two of their best defensive players, defensive end Carl Lawson and cornerback William Jackson III, are set to hit free agency.
If one or neither of them are retained, a bad defense begins to look even worse. The club finished with the fewest sacks in the league a season ago and the secondary struggled mightily at times. Even if a first-round selection is spent on reinforcements for one of those respective units, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the performances from those groups improve in the wake of the absence of Lawson or Jackson.
It’s also abundantly clear the offensive line needs major upgrades. Talent should likely be added both via free agency and in the early rounds of the draft. The only problem is, they desperately need help elsewhere, limiting the number of resources they can pour into shoring up the trenches.
If that weren’t enough, there are serious question marks surrounding the current coaching staff. Taylor has only net six wins in two seasons, a historically bad start.
Cincinnati has plenty going for them too
As gloomy as things may appear in the Queen City, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and it could be arriving sooner rather than later if the correct strings are pulled.
The Bengals are entering the offseason with the sixth-most cap space in the NFL, a top-five draft selection, and the hope of return from a number of key contributors. Not to mention, they’ve calmed some nerves about the coaching staff by adding the likes of Marion Hobby and Frank Pollack.
Starting with the cap situation, a front office that regularly draws the ire of the outside world has once again put the franchise in a good position financially. They have the option to be aggressive on the open market while also retaining their key players.
It simply comes down to whether or not they pull the trigger and back the brinks truck up again after going on a historic spending spree last March.
They’re slotted in a favorable position for the draft as well. The hope is a run on quarterbacks will cause an elite prospect such as Penei Sewell or Ja’Marr Chase to fall to them. However, if that scenario doesn’t play out, they can trade back to acquire more selections and still indulge in the deep offensive line class or nab a difference-maker on the defensive side of the ball.
And finally, the return of health is the biggest reason to believe the Bengals can beat the odds and put together a winning season for the first time since 2015. Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon, D.J. Reader, Trae Waynes, Jonah Williams, and many others will all be set to suit up in the orange and black once more.
You could easily argue that with their presence, Cincinnati would have crept closer to the 8-8 mark this season. With their return, in addition to the reinforcements the front office will undoubtedly bring in, there should be plenty of optimism that 2021 is the year the tide turns for the Bengals.