The return of Joe Burrow and expected upgrades in free agency and through the NFL Draft should make the Bengals one of the most improved teams in 2021. CBS Sports named the Bengals“Five NFL teams poised to make a major leap in 2021: Panthers should challenge in the NFC South.”
Although the defending Superbowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers reside in the NFC South, the Bengals have three playoff teams to climb over in the AFC North. The AFC North was the only division in the NFL was three playoff teams as the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers all made the postseason.
Baltimore and Cleveland both won first-round games before being eliminated. Expecting a playoff berth for Cincinnati in year two of the Joe Burrow era is difficult. Burrow is returning from a torn ACL that sidelined him for the final six games of the 2020 season. Burrow is expected to be ready for the start of the 2021 season.
As Ben Roethlisberger enters the twilight of his career, Cincinnati will still have to battle Baltimore and Cleveland with young QBs Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield. The Bengals are over $37 million below the salary cap and will have more to spend after cuts. Cincinnati also has the fifth pick in the NFL Draft.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
They’ve won six games in two years with Zac Taylor, but boy oh boy will Joe Burrow’s return under center give them an adrenaline boost. For the second straight offseason, the Bengals also have a ton of money to play with, meaning they can continue to surround their young quarterback with talent.
Maybe it’s help up front (please). Maybe it’s another weapon to fill out an already-promising wide receiver corps. Either way, if Burrow can stay upright, Cincy should easily be bound for an improvement over 4-11-1.
It helps that rivals like the Steelers could be due for regression as they battle age, cap issues and QB questions.
Expect the Bengals to target the offensive line in free agency and likely the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Joe Thuney is the offensive lineman most often mentioned in free agency. Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell is expected to be drafted by the Bengals if he is available with the fifth pick of the Draft.
Adding another playmaking WR to complement Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins would help Burrow and the Bengals passing game. If Sewell is not available with the fifth pick, Burrow’s former LSU teammate, WR Ja’Marr Chase has been mentioned as the possible selection. This is a critical offseason for Cincinnati.