The Cincinnati Bengals own a 5.5 over-under win projection in 2020. While this looks doable under normal circumstances, asking a team to reach this threshold in a not-so-normal off-season isn’t workable.
Anything is possible in this different 2020 season, considering the lack of off-season workouts and preseason.
The odds, however, stack against young teams like the Bengals, given the AFC North’s toughness, the team’s inexperience, and their history of drafting quarterbacks.
There are many reasons to bet the under against the Bengals in 2020, especially if you see yourself as a conservative bettor rather than aggressive. They aren’t built to win in 2020 as they figure to use the season as a rebuilding year.
Here are 4 factors that will prevent the Bengals from overcoming their 5.5 over-under projection.
1. The Rugged AFC North
The AFC North is among the toughest divisions in football and is more rugged than ever before, with 3 lethal teams figuring to contend for the playoffs in 2020. The Bengals are the fourth team.
Words can’t describe how lethal the Baltimore Ravens are, given their 14-2 season in 2019 and revolutionary offense.
The Pittsburgh Steelers struggled in 2019, but they lost future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for 14 games. While Ben stumbled to an 0-2 record to start off the season, he still provides better options than Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges.
Cleveland also struggled in 2019, but the Browns are arguably the most complete football team, at least from a paper standpoint. Lack of discipline and poor coaching hurt their 2019 campaign. They added even more firepower during the off-season and looked to put 2019 behind them.
Then you have the bungling Bengals, who finished 2-14 after an 0-11 start. They beat the New York Jets and the Browns during the season. By then, both teams were eliminated from playoff contention and looked more interested in padding their draft position than facing the Bengals.
It shouldn’t surprise if the Bengals go winless in the AFC North unless they play another meaningless game against a division opponent late in the season. That’s 6 losses right there if their AFC North brethren are fighting for playoff spots in December.
While the Bengals have winnable games on the schedule, asking them to win over 5 in 2020 without adequate practice time and preseason is a lot.
And playing in the AFC North doesn’t help.
Organizations like the Washington Football Team and New York Giants are in the same situation.
For the worst teams in the NFL in 2019, it isn’t likely to see anyone surprise or make a leap in 2020.
2. The Youth and Newbies Gone Soft
The Bengals already experienced a lot of roster turnover. At least 50 percent of the roster will comprise new faces, including quarterback, receiver, left tackle, and guard. On defense, each position group will see at least one new starter.
So, if you bet at online sportsbooks on the Bengals, the safer action is to bet under 5.5 wins because an inexperienced roster must adjust to the speed of the NFL. And they must adapt to the speed of the game on the fly as their first action against another team comes in Week 1.
A hindrance for the Bengals and teams in similar situations.
The Bengals uncharacteristically signed a horde of free agents, meaning they will see even more faces than usual in 2020.
The apparent upside here is the new faces signed in free agency are proven talents like Vonn Bell, D.J. Reader, and Trae Waynes.
And given the continuity in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and even Cleveland from a player standpoint, the Bengals are the weakest sister in the AFC North, to begin with. Add a restricted off-season and preseason, and the young Bengals are looking at a chore just to win a few games in 2020.
Often, it takes young teams weeks to mesh, and it goes beyond the NFL preseason.
The team may just have to look at 2020 as one long learning experience and leave it in 2020. Sure, training camp and the preseason may operate like any other year. But it is a longshot.
3. Lack of Viable Practice
Live practices were knocked out for all 32 NFL teams. Many compare this off-season to 2011 when the NFL Lockout ravaged off-season workouts.
For another, the NFL Lockout, while it didn’t affect the NFL Draft, it affected free agency. Free agency didn’t begin until late July. Since this was a world wide issue and not a lockout, teams could still talk to players, distribute playbooks, and sign new players.
2020 prevented the live off-season workouts with minicamps and organized team activities (OTAs) relegated to Zoom meetings.
The preseason is gone, so the Bengals must rely on intra-squad scrimmages to relay improvement rather than face other teams to understand where they stand.
Incoming rookies like Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins will hurry to build chemistry in training camp and somehow find themselves ready for Week 1, their first taste of NFL experience.
The same goes for incoming free agents.
If you look at the headline, I placed ’90’ after the dash, highlighting the Cincinnati Bengals’ last year won a playoff game.
It will be 30 years this year, barring a miracle. The year we have had didn’t help the Bengals off-season plans.
The good news is that it wasn’t a curveball to an extent. All 32 teams knew off-season workouts were toast.
And most of us probably knew the preseason was a goner and the stands holding, at most, a fraction of fans. But the face-covering mandate may mean we may a few fans attending games.
But the Bengals might have more new starters than any other team in the NFL, or at least the AFC.
2020 was the last season the Bengals needed for something like this to happen. But then again, someone had to be that team.
4. All Roar, No Bite at Quarterback
Let’s talk a little about the Bengals top draft pick.
Joe Burrow is the hottest sought prospect since Andrew Luck in 2012, who was the hottest sought prospect since John Elway in 1983. Burrow did it all in one season. One glorious season, unlike anyone college football quarterback, put together.
Neither Luck nor Elway, Peyton Manning, Jameis Winston, Cam Newton, JaMarcus Russell, Troy Aikman, or any other number one overall pick had a season like Burrow’s.
All in one season. The best season a college quarterback ever put together, and no one can take that away from Burrow. No, your argument and generalizations are faulty if you think another quarterback bettered Burrow since college football started in 1869.
But it doesn’t mean he is the second coming of Peyton Manning.
And it’s classic Cincinnati Bengals.
Look at the previous quarterbacks the Bengals drafted in the first round.
Carson Palmer, Heisman Trophy Winner. First, overall, the 2003 NFL Draft. Failed to win a single playoff game for the Bengals.
Yeah, he won a few with other teams, but never in Cincy.
Akili Smith. Third overall. 1999 NFL Draft. Like Burrow, Smith had one good season at the University of Oregon, which threw his stock beyond anything it should have been. It was so high the resurrected Cleveland Browns considered drafting him.
It came down to Couch and Smith in Cleveland, and the Browns selected Couch. When the Philadelphia Eagles took Donovan McNabb, Smith fell to Cincinnati. He lasted 3 seasons.
David Klingler set the NCAA record for touchdown passes with 54 during the 1991 season. The Bengals took him sixth overall in the 1992 NFL Draft. Like Smith, Klingler didn’t last. He retired after 6 seasons, spending most of it as a backup.
While history doesn’t foreshadow Burrow’s career, it spells a grim omen in the tea leaves. Arguably the best QB among all college football players.
It forced Burrow to seek other options, and he wound up at LSU. He had a marginal junior season before breaking out as a senior.
Go back to August 2019; Joe Burrow was a Day Two prospect on a generous draft board.
Again, it doesn’t mean Burrow is the NFL’s next JaMarcus Russell. But history isn’t on his side, and it doesn’t end with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Mark Sanchez, Mitchell Trubisky, and Dwayne Haskins each enjoyed one great season. Each was in the top 10 picks in the first round. Scouts overrated all 3 of them, just as they overrated Akili Smith in 1999.
Sanchez never performed to expectations and is best known for one of the most infamous plays in NFL history. Trubisky is on his last chance in Chicago. And every great football mind has questioned Haskins’ commitment.
Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert made far more sense than for the Bengals to gamble on Burrow. When Burrow is asked to do more than he is ready for, the Bengals will tank. At least in 2020.
The Bengals face an even more massive uphill battle in 2020. To the point, even something as simple as a 5.5-win over-under isn’t workable in this season’s landscape.
Many teams were prevented teams from participating in live workouts, which stunts developments of young teams like the Bengals. And now it axed the preseason, digging the Bengals and teams like them a deeper hole.
Despite his success in 2019, Joe Burrow’s resume is like that of other first-round busts the Bengals drafted. Plus, his first 4 seasons in college are forgettable. The NFL isn’t as forgiving.
Finally, playing in the AFC North is no picnic where every rival in the North is a potential playoff contender. And on a serious note, if the Browns end up in the playoffs, then 2020 is the strangest year on record.
So, what are your thoughts on the Bengals? Let us know in the comments.