“It’s time to win”: Schedule Breakdown and Predictions

Lukas Moore and Logan Vaughn

The Bengals have pretty low expectations in 2021; at least that’s what anyone outside of Bengaldom is saying. They’re a 4-11-1 team whose quarterback everyone forgot about watching and will be returning from knee surgery. They made no major splashes in free agency, and they made an unpopular decision in drafting Ja’Marr Chase.

Listen to the national media, and it would be totally okay for this team to be a fun 7-10. But, here at the Chronicle, we exist in Bengaldom. We watched Joe Burrow make a bottom five roster a threat to playoff teams, as a rookie.

The last 5 games Joe Burrow played were all against playoff teams; here are his numbers via Pro Football Reference.

In these games Burrow and the Bengals took a 21 point lead against the Colts, who nearly defeated the Buffalo Bills in the AFC playoffs. Burrow led two 4th quarter game winning drives against the Browns who went 11-5 and won their first playoff game since the Clinton administration.

Burrow and the Bengals then went on to beat the Titans with 0 opening day starters playing on the offensive line. Finally finishing up by leading a playoff-bound Washington and being on pace for 400 yards when his knee got bent out of shape.

In the first 10 games of 2020, the Bengals were a top-5 team in the NFL in time of possession. They did this while averaging less than 4.0 yards per carry, and leading the league in pass attempts. That is the sign of an ELITE quarterback.

If you’re worried about his rehab? Don’t. Take a look at Deshaun Watson’s numbers the first five games he played the following season after a similar injury.

Not only was Deshaun spectacular, he did it under massive duress and on a bad Houston team. Once Burrow completes his rehab he will be his normal self, there is nothing we’ve learned about the man to indicate anything else.

Burrow’s dedication to himself and his tolerance for pain has pushed his rehab timetable up. As long as there are no setbacks, he will be ready to play in the preseason (which he should not play in, even if healthy).

Given all that, it’s reasonable to work with the assumption that Cincinnati will be fielding a top-10 quarterback in 2021. Ask those who’ve watched JoeyB since his days in Athens – and they’ll say it’s reasonable to expect an MVP quarterback.

But, as we all know the rest of the team determines how successful Cincinnati will be in 2021. With Burrow healthy and under center, it’s time to win. No more excuses, only execution. How many will they win? Logan Vaughn and I made our 2021 predictions…

Week 1: vs Minnesota 

Lukas Moore: Minnesota has a better coach in Mike Zimmer and one of the few WR rooms that will compete with the Bengals, and arguably the league’s best running back in Dalvin Cook. Plus, Kirk Cousins tends to be more effective away from the spotlight. Bengals have a lot of new stuff on defense, and this is a tougher matchup than we think. Bengals defense loses, as Burrow and Chase make a statement. Vikings win 34-27. Record: 0-1

Logan Vaughn: A week before the official schedule release, a rumor floated around that the Bengals would be playing in Baltimore in week 1. Obviously, that turned out to be false and the Bengals caught a break. I think a healthy Bengals defense, especially the front 7, can do enough to contain Dalvin Cook and start the year off with a win. The first Chase vs Jefferson battle goes to #1. Cincinnati wins 27-23. Record: 1-0

Week 2: @ Chicago

LM: I currently live in Chicago and am excitedly about to pay $230 a ticket to sit in the nosebleeds, so I might be hoping for this result, instead of predicting it. The defense starts to gel and the Bengals go into Chicago and do what they normally do against the Bears; potentially ending the Andy Dalton era. I can’t imagine it any other way. Cincinnati wins 35-10. Record: 1-1

LV: This game should be interesting. Each of the last few years, the Bears have had strong starts to the season. No different from those years, they still have cautious optimism at the QB position. I expect a boring, low-scoring game that comes down to a late Evan McPherson kick. Luckily, he makes it. Cincinnati wins 17-16. Record: 2-0

Week 3: @ Pittsburgh

LM: Oftentimes we don’t recognize turning points in history as they happen, we need time to show us. The Vonn Bell hit on Ju-Ju was credited as a turning point by Mike Hilton, the former Steeler turned Bengal. His statement is confirmed, and Burrow starts making MVP noise. Bengals win 34-21. Record: 2-1

LV: While I fully expect regression in Pittsburgh, I do not expect to start the year 3-0 with back to back tough road wins. Their defense is still good and they utilize enough weapons to cause any defense trouble, even with a deteriorating Big Ben. Pittsburgh wins 30-20. Record: 2-1

Week 4: vs Jacksonville

LM: Two quarterbacks who completely dominated high school football, won National Championships in college, and were consensus #1 picks in the NFL draft meet. Good thing the Bengals have the guy that cares about football. Also, I don’t think Tim Tebow is a real tight end, but if he’s running routes at tight end, he will be wide open 7 times against the Bengals. Tebow’s breakout party at Tight End nearly ruins it, but the Bengals win 33-26. Record: 3-1

LV: Thursday Night Football in the Jungle! A sold-out crowd watches a Ja’Marr Chase coming out party and the offense explodes. Burrow beats Lawrence yet again. Cincinnati wins 34-23. Record: 3-1

Week 5: vs Green Bay

LM: I’m going to assume that Aaron Rodgers plays for the Packers because technically he still is a Packer. Given that fact, I think this is where the excitement fades a bit for Cincy. Rodgers tears up the Bengals, but heaps praise on a rapidly ascending Burrow. Packers win 35-24. Record: 3-2

LV: I’ve been of the opinion that Aaron Rodgers is probably 80% of GB’s success. And that hasn’t changed. Rodgers seems to have played his last snap for the Packers, and if that holds true I just don’t see the Bengals losing this one. Cincinnati wins 26-21. Record: 4-1

Week 6: @ Detroit

LM: This game will be weird. On the road at Detroit with a massive division game looming just never sounds like fun. However, this might be the only game on the Bengals schedule where I’m 100% confident that Zac Taylor is a better coach than his opponent. Cincinnati wins 21-17. Record: 4-2

LV: Do I seem like a homer yet? Because I’m picking the Bengals to win again. I just don’t see Jared Goff thriving in Detroit, and I sure as hell don’t see their defense stopping a core of Burrow, Mixon, Boyd, Higgins and Chase. No way. Cincinnati wins 31-24. Record: 5-1

Week 7: @ Baltimore

LM: This will be the 2nd time Burrow gets to see the defensive scheme of Wink Martindale in Baltimore. The fastest information processor since Brady will have a field day as Martindale tries the same playbook that dominated Burrow in 2020. Lamar is tough, but the Bengals do enough. Cincinnati wins 24-21. Record: 5-2

LV: Oh, man. Baltimore seems to be even more of a juggernaut than in past years. While they lost some guys on defense, they gave Lamar Jackson some legit weapons and I do not see the defense stopping that unit. Baltimore exposes the defense and wins 35-20. Record: 5-2

Week 8: @ New York Jets

LM: This is where the NFL gets you. Zach Wilson will be in his 8th week, and the Jets defense will have had time to season under Robert Saleh. This will be the third straight road game for the Bengals, jammed right in between two division games. Scheduling gods give the Bengals a bad break, Cincinnati loses 28-24. Record: 5-3

LV: I love what the Jets did this offseason. From the coaching staff to free agency and the draft, they knocked it out of the park. Still, they are probably where the Bengals were a year ago. They aren’t ready and they won’t stop Joe Burrow. Cincinnati wins 38-24. Record: 6-2

Week 9: vs Cleveland

LM: A loss against the Jets and a looming bye means the Bengals have a laser-focused practice week. The improvements on the Browns defense are overstated, and the Bengals are better at stopping the run. An offseason designed to beat Cleveland pays off, Bengals win 28-24. Record: 6-3

LV: A heated game is brewing. Both teams are ascending, and only the one playing in Cleveland is getting any attention. Home field goes a long way in this one, although Baker Mayfield has played his best football in Cincinnati. Still, the Bengals win 35-31. Record: 7-2


Week 11: @ Las Vegas

LM: To the West Coast off a bye against a solid Raiders team just doesn’t sound like a game the Bengals win. Two high-scoring squads go at it in a very fun shootout in Vegas. Raiders win 45-42. Record: 6-4

LV: The Bengals come off of their bye week against a Raiders team that in all likelihood just lost to Kansas City. Playing desperate and at home on the west coast, they squeak by the rusty Bengals. The Raiders win 27-17. Record: 7-3

Week 12: vs Pittsburgh

LM: I already told you that the rivalry has turned. The Steelers death spiral will be nearly complete come week 12, and with all that blood in the water, the Bengals will be circling. Cincinnati sweeps the Steelers for the first time since 2009, Bengals win 38-17. Record: 7-4

LV: Coming off a loss, the Bengals put the dagger in the Steelers’ season with Joe Burrow’s first victory against the arch-rival. It once again becomes abundantly clear that Ben Roethlisberger’s days are numbered. The Bengals win 30-16. Record: 8-3

Week 13: vs Los Angeles Chargers

LM: The Chargers hired Brandon Staley, who looks and sounds like the long-lost twin of Zac Taylor. Add in the fact both of these baby-faced coaches had less than 10 years of combined experience in the NFL in any capacity before they were hired and the similarities stack up. Burrow is better than Herbert. Taylor is better than Staley. Bengals win 28-24. Record: 8-4

LV: The long-awaited duel between Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow proves to be everything it was made up to be. Burrow has heard the chatter, and he comes into this matchup with a chip on his shoulder. Herbert shows up too, but it’s not enough. The Bengals win 42-34. Record: 9-3

Week 14: vs San Francisco

LM: The calm water of a manageable early-season schedule flip to a late-season typhoon of tough games. Trey Lance or Jimmy G will have a good day as Lou Anarumo has laps ran around him by Kyle Shanahan. The Niners’ defense is even tougher, and the Bengals will look overmatched in moments. San Fran wins 35-20. Record: 8-5

LV: A string of tough games begins when the 49ers come to Cincinnati. At this stage in the year, San Francisco will likely be rolling and playing at an elite level, especially if Trey Lance hits the ground running. At the end of the day, they’re just too talented and deep for the Bengals to win. San Francisco runs all over Cincinnati and wins 33-20. Record: 9-4

Week 15: @ Denver

LM: Unless Aaron Rodgers has a sprinting horse on the side of his head by week 15, the Bengals should be fine in this game. Denver has a fun roster, with solid pieces, but the QB play is debilitating. By this time Denver will be looking at the draft and the Bengals will be looking at January. Cincinnati wins 28-14. Record: 9-5

LV: The Broncos actually have a pretty good roster. And although they lack an elite QB, something scares me about this game. Denver wins a sloppy, defensive battle, 17-16. Record: 9-5

Week 16: vs Baltimore

LM: This three game stretch will be the determining factor of the Bengals season. It’ll also be the final chance for Zac Taylor to prove he can win a Super Bowl with Joe Burrow. If they can go 2-1 or 3-0 in this stretch and the Bengals are rolling; but at 1-2 or 0-3 and over half the fanbase will want a new coach. I’ve been an active and vocal skeptic on Zac Taylor, but I want nothing more than for him to prove me and all the doubters wrong. This is his chance. I don’t think the Bengals sweep the Ravens, Bengals lose 31-18. Record: 9-6

LV: Like I mentioned before, the Ravens are going to be scary. I don’t think Lou Anarumo has it in him to contain Lamar Jackson enough to clinch a playoff spot here. The offense keeps it close, but the Ravens are just too much as of now. Baltimore wins 31-26. Record: 9-6

Week 17: vs Kansas City

LM: I don’t think the Chiefs are going to have an easy time with the AFC West, so I think this game will matter for them. That makes this a real measuring stick game for a team that will be sniffing the playoffs. It’ll be a fight, but one I’m not sure they are ready to win. Chiefs hang on 38-35. Record: 9-7

LV: The reeling Bengals don’t get any help when Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs roll into Cincinnati. But they need a win, and the Chiefs are in that stage of the season where they just don’t care. They play sloppy and almost don’t take opponents seriously. Joe Burrow outduels Patrick Mahomes and beats the Chiefs 30-27. Record: 10-6

Week 18: @ Cleveland

LM: If the Bengals aren’t already eliminated at 9-7 I think this will be a much different game. But, the AFC is really top-heavy and 7 losses is a lot. The Bengals won’t have anything but pride to play for and the Browns will be fighting for the postseason. Burrow ends a spectacular campaign with a spectacular game, but the defense fails again. Browns win 35-31. Record: 9-8

LV: Running the football is a forgotten art in today’s game. But that’s exactly how the Browns beat the Bengals in the regular season finale. Reminiscent of the 2020 Thursday Night game, it’s a frustrating beatdown in the trenches. The Browns win 34-28. Record: 10-7

LM: I think Joe Burrow will have MVP type numbers in the 2021 season. Whether he wins the award or not will be completely determined by the Bengals defense and coaching staff. After watching the 2020 and 2019 season I don’t have enough faith in Lou Anarumo and Zac Taylor to elevate a solid at best roster at everywhere but QB/WR. Those two men need to take a big step as coaches for the Bengals to maximize this rosters potential. I don’t believe that will happen, at least I don’t believe it enough to put my name behind it.

LV: 10-7 likely puts the Bengals in a wild card spot. But we just saw the Miami Dolphins miss out on the playoffs after going 10-6. Either way, this team has no excuses to not compete almost every single week. With a brutal schedule in the second half of the season, it is vital that the Bengals start the season ready to play. If they don’t, we may be looking at an overhaul of the coaching staff.

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