2020 NFL Team Previews: Cincinnati Bengals
2020 NFL Team Previews
By Professor MJ
After making the postseason in five straight years, the Bengals have gone through four losing seasons in a row. The team reached its lowest point by finishing dead last in the entire NFL with a 2-14 record last year.
The good thing about being the laughing stock of the league in a given year is that you get to pick first in the following draft. Cincinnati hopes to regain a winning culture through their new franchise QB, Joe Burrow.
2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown
2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)
Let the Joe Burrow era begin!
According to some college football experts, he is the most accurate QB they have ever seen. Burrow completed 76% of his passes last year, which was the second-best completion percentage since 1956. He wasn’t just dinking and dunking passes; he was throwing downfield quite often.
One of his main strengths is above its shoulders. He is very smart, he reads defenses well and he raises his game in big nerve-wracking games. He is poised in the pocket and even though you won’t confuse him with Lamar Jackson, he knows how to avoid the rush.
Can Burrow lead a 2-14 team to a playoff spot? That’s going to be difficult. Kyler Murray was also a #1 overall pick, he did a good job in his rookie season and he led the Cards to go from a 3-13 record in 2018 to a 5-10-1 record in 2019.
As good as Burrow looked in his final college year, it would be unfair to ask him to lead Cincy to a 10-6 record right away. Adjusting to the NFL speed takes some time.
At the time of writing, Andy Dalton was still on the Bengals’ roster. He had his most disappointing season since 2014 with a poor 16:14 TD:INT mark, while getting his lowest completion percentage (59.5%) since his rookie season. To make matters worse, he fumbled eight times last year; only 2016 was worse with nine fumbles.
As bad as those numbers look, Dalton would still be a great #2 QB. He could give Burrow some tips and step in if he gets hurt.
2.2 Running Backs (RBs)
Joe Mixon’s 2019 season was a tale of two stories.
During the first eight meetings, he rushed 101 times for 320 yards (a 3.2 yards-per-carry average) and 0 TD on the ground. Over the final eight games, he posted a 177-817-5 rushing line (a 4.6 yards-per-carry average). It was night and day!
Mixon has the talent for sure. He topped the 1,000 rushind-yard mark for the second straight year and he’s still very young and fresh at 24 years old. Last year, he ran behind an horrendous offensive line and with a QB that struggled to move the chains.
Giovani Bernard’s first three seasons in the NFL were very promising. He would regularly pick up around 700 rushing yards, while also catching around 50 balls.
His numbers have been going down over the next four years, and they reached their lowest point last season. He rushed for just 170 yards, along with a dreadful 3.2 yards-per-rush average. What’s going on with this guy?
2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)
The X factor at the position is A.J. Green. He missed the entire 2019 season with numerous and mysterious injuries. He openly expressed his frustration about contract negotiations going nowhere.
He is working out away from the team. It’s not 100% certain that he will play this year, but the chances are good since he doesn’t have much leverage after missing a full season. He also missed 7 games the year before with a toe injury. Moreover, he is now on the wrong side of 30 so it’s in his best interest to play football while he still can.
Green had a big impact on the field since his rookie season out of Georgia. He broke the 1,000 receiving-yard mark in each of his first seven seasons, except in 2016 where he needed just 36 more years to attain that goal. However, he missed six games that year.
If Green comes back, how good will he be after missing the last season and a half?
The team drafted Tee Higgins with the first pick of the second round. He posted a 59-936-12 receiving line as a sophomore with Clemson, and then picked up 59-1167-13 numbers as a junior.
Higgins is pretty tall and he has great body control where he makes good adjustments to ball. That makes him dangerous on deep balls, and also in the red zone. He could struggle early on when facing press corners, but he’ll be a nice addition to this squad.
Tyler Boyd set career-highs in receptions (90) and receiving yards (1,046) last year. It was his second straight 1,000 receiving-yard season. He played most of the snaps from the slot and chances are good he’ll play there even more often this year. At 25 years old, the former second-rounder has established himself as a very reliable target in the passing game.
John Ross has yet to breakout as a former #9 overall pick. His debut season was a wasted one; he had a few injuries and was a healthy scratch many times. He did not catch a single pass all season long!
In his second year, he caught just 21 balls, but at least seven of them were touchdowns. Finally, he had 28 receptions last season while missing half the season. He got off to a hot start with 158 and 112 receiving yards in the first two meetings of the year, but averaged just 39 the rest of the year. That was a huge disappointment. It might be his last shot to prove what he can do.
The Bengals have a couple more pass catchers who could play a role. Both took advantage of a banged up receiving corps to catch around 40 passes last year. First, Auden Tate made good use of his huge catch radius, but he’s pretty slow. As for Alex Erickson, he’s a 27-year old undrafted guy, so he could be on his way out with Green and Higgins stepping in.
2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)
Tyler Eifert has been the team’s #1 TE for the past seven years, but that’s a story of the past since he decided to join the Jaguars. He finally played a full 16-game season for the first time of his career, but didn’t have jaw-dropping numbers nonetheless.
Eifert’s departure puts C.J. Uzomah in the driver seat as the top pass-catching tight end on the team. He had a career-high 43 receptions in 2018 before regressing to 27 last year. He has reached the end zone on just seven occasions since entering the league as a fifth-round pick five years ago. He’s a below-average TE.
Drew Sample will see increased playing time in 2020 for sure. He’s a very solid blocking tight end. He was picked in the second round of last year’s draft despite hauling in just 46 passes in four college years.
2.5 Offensive Line (OL)
This unit struggled a lot last year.
Trey Hopkins started all 16 games at center last year. He was called one of the few “bright spots” on the offensive line, despite ranking as the 26th-best center out of 37 players at the position based on the PFF rating system. That shows you how low the bar was.
Somehow, Bobby Hart remains the starting right tackle for the Bengals. He finished 75th among 80 tackles in 2018 before obtaining the number 67 spot out of 81 guys last year. In other words, he’s clearly not a good protector.
Cordy Glenn was the clear-cut LT when the 2019 season began, but he missed most of the season with concussions. The team released him during the offseason and they are ready to move on with Jonah Williams. The #11 overall pick from the 2019 draft should be ready to make his NFL debut after missing his whole rookie season with a torn labrum.
Michael Jordan’s rookie season was not a fairy tale. He missed a few games due to injuries and when healthy he was not very effective. The fourth-rounder finished 77th out of 81 guards. He was particularly bad in run blocking.
Billy Price has been a first round bust so far. He earned below-average grades in his rookie season, and things got even worse last year with an abysmal 41.8 mark (80th / 81 guards). He lost the battle for the starting center position to undrafted Trey Hopkins and he ended up playing 54% of the snaps filling in for injuries on the OL.
The only addition worth of note is Xavier Su’a-Filo, formerly of the Cowboys. He will either be a low-end starter or a backup. He has received pretty poor PFF marks in each of his past three years.
John Miller, John Jerry and Andre Smith played a role on the OL last year, but they are all gone. None was particularly good, though.
2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE
Joe Burrow is likely to rejuvenate the entire franchise. I do believe he’ll have a nice NFL career, but I don’t expect him to completely turn the team around within one year (not as much as most people expect him to do). Give him some time to learn.
Having A.J. Green back and adding rookie Tee Higgins to an already very capable receiving corps (with Boyd and Ross) will provide Burrow with many pass catching weapons.
However, the tight end position suffered a downgrade following Eifert’s departure to Jacksonville.
More importantly, the big question mark concerns the offensive line. They are the main reason why I believe this offense won’t do as well as what most people think. This group was bad last year, and there is not much hope for improvement in 2020.
Having Jonah Williams back after missing his entire rookie season is good, but he’s no lock to be a top left tackle in the league right away. The other four starters are all clearly below-average linemen.
That being said, the Bengals offense finished 30th in points scored last year. I expect them to finish in the 19-25 range, which is somewhere between a “small” and “moderate” upgrade.
Final call (2020 vs 2019):
Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade
3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown
3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)
The interior of the defensive line is going to be very solid in Cincinnati this year. I absolutely love the Geno Atkins – D.J. Reader duo!
Atkins is an underrated player that doesn’t get enough credit. He’s been extremely good his entire career, while playing all 16 games in 9 out of 10 seasons, which is remarkable! He defends the run well, while also averaging 7.6 sacks per year. He’s a phenomenal defensive tackle.
Reader was a hot commodity on the free agency market. The Bengals made a splash by signing him to a lofty four-year deal. He does not rack up many sacks, but he is a beast against the running game. Considering Cincy allowed the most rushing yards last year, his addition is more than welcome!
He is in his mid-twenties, so he’s entering his prime years. A great get, in my opinion.
Andrew Billings played 61% of the snaps for the Bengals last year, but he left for Cleveland. He did a decent job and the team believes Josh Tupou can be an adequate rotational player. The undrafted 26-year old has received surprisingly good marks in limited time.
3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)
The Dunlap-Hubbard-Lawson trio led the team with 9, 8.5 and 5 sacks, respectively.
Dunlap is an established veteran who provides quality play in all phases of the game. He excels against the run and he has recorded an average of 8.2 sacks per year throughout his 10-year career. He was the fourth-best linebacker in the league last year, according to PFF rankings.
Sam Hubbard had a great six-sack rookie season, before nearly doubling his tackle production while also recording 8.5 more sacks last year. He has solidified his position as an entrenched starter in the NFL after getting picked in the 3rd round of the 2018 draft.
Carl Lawson had a disappointing 2019 season. He finished as the 96th-best edge defender out of 107 qualifiers. He had always struggled in coverage, but he was even worse last year with a horrific 36.4 PFF grade. He did post five sacks, but he remains a below-average guy.
3.3 Linebackers (LBs)
This group wasn’t very good last year and they are not projected to be great this season either.
Nick Vigil played as an every-down LB, even though the quality of his play was suspect. He’s been a below-average lineback through his first four years. He packed his bags and will wear the Chargers uniform this year.
Preston Brown has been pretty awful and he was waived after nine games last year.
Third-round rookie Germaine Pratt had a mitigated 2019 season. He played 41% of the snaps and he earned the number 67 rank out of 89 LBs in PFF grades. The team desperately needs him to step up his game for the upcoming season.
The team also has high hopes for Logan Wilson, whom the Bengals selected in this year’s draft in the 3rd round. He was very productive with the Wyoming Cowboys, averaging 109 tackles and 9 for loss in his final three years.
Josh Bynes is penciled in to occupy another starting spot. He is a nine-year veteran that has earned surprisingly good marks in 2017, 2018 and 2019. He played 40% of the snaps with the Ravens last year, but he’s likely to play much more often this year.
3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)
This position is undergoing a complete overhaul.
Three out of the four most used corners in 2019 are now off the team: B.W. Webb (83rd / 112 CBs), Darqueze Dennard (21st / 112) and Dre Kirkpatrick (67th / 112).
The only returning starter is William Jackson, who earned the lowest PFF grade of the group. The former first-rounder’s career is going in a downward spiral. His PFF marks have gone from 90.2 as a rookie to 73.4 as a sophomore before plummeting to 53.6 last year. He only has two career interceptions and one sack.
Cincinnati has a trio of newcomers: Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and LeShaun Sims.
Waynes is coming over from Minnesota after spending five years there. He is a slightly above-average corner, which is a bit disappointing considering his first-round status. Still, he’s a reliable asset.
Alexander is another former Viking joining the Bengals. He’s a slot corner who also does an “okay” job.
LeShaun Sims probably won’t see the field too often, barring injuries. He’s not very good in coverage and he’s more suited in a nickel package.
3.5 Safeties (S)
Jessie Bates and Shawn Williams both played almost all defensive snaps last year. Neither was particularly good, as indicated by their PFF rankings: 70th and 80th out of 87 safeties.
Bates did log three interceptions for the second straight year. His PFF grades took a huge dip; after a promising rookie campaign where he earned a pretty good 79.9 mark, he got 59.7 last year. His play deteriorated in all aspects of the game. We’ll see if the second-rounder can rebound this season.
Shawn Williams will likely be relegated to the bench with the addition of Vonn Bell. The former Saint is a clear upgrade at the position. His coverage skills won’t impress anyone, but he’s among the best safeties in the league defending the run.
2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE
Will Cincy’s defense be improved in 2020?
The team upgraded the interior of the line in a big way following the acquisition of stud run stuffer D.J. Reader. The safety position is also in better shape after inking Vonn Bell to a three-year contract.
The edge defenders remain the same as in 2019. The linebacker group added Josh Bynes and third-round rookie Logan Wilson, while losing Nick Vigil. I don’t see any clear upgrade or downgrade here.
Finally, the corner position was completely overhauled. Are Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and LeShaun Sims better than B.W. Webb, Darqueze Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick? Again, it seems like a wash (perhaps a small gain?).
Please note that both Atkins and Dunlap are now on the wrong side of 30. I’m expecting them to still play at a high level, but a dropoff is not impossible.
For all of the reasons above, I’ll tag this unit as slightly improved overall. They finished 25th in terms of points allowed last year, and I anticipate them to rank in the 20-22 range this season.
Final call (2020 vs 2019):
Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade
4. Regular Season Wins
According to sportsbooks, the Cincinnati Bengals are expected to win 5.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?
Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:
- Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
- Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
- Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
- Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
- Count the proportion of seasons where the Bengals won more or less than 5.5 games.
The results of this thorough statistical investigation generate the 8th-highest ROI (Return On Investment) among the league's 32 teams.
As you can see on my website, the Over/Under pick is provided for free for the NFL teams producing the ROIs ranked 11-32.
The top 10 picks, which includes the Bengals, all have a ROI above 24% and they are available in my special NFL Gold Package. This is the best product I have ever sold. Take advantage of it!
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