Cincinnati sports fans have been through a lot. Although having fans back and a shiny new stadium is great. The on-field product has severely lacked. The Reds being reminiscent of 2005 and FC Cincinnati’s MLS record-breaking putrid play turns all eyes to Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals.
It can be tough to be an optimist once the pressure of a season begins. In this column, the 2021 season will not be full of puff pieces and rosy-cheeked hopes. This column will be filled with honest evaluations of the Bengals play.
Lots of Bengals fans were born in the midst of a curse. A curse that started the day Bo Jackson retired from the NFL after the Cincinnati Bengals ruined his career with one desperate clingy tackle. Bengals fans born after 1991 know nothing but pain, and embarrassment.
Younger fans are used to criticizing this team. When the Super Bowl appearances are only stories your Dad can tell you, it’s hard to be an optimist. Yet the presence of Burrow at OTA’s and the shining warm weather means today is the day. Today’s the day to believe the wildest dreams that float in the collective consciousness.
So, Shall we pause for a moment and dream the dream Bengals fan. Allow any doubt or pessimism to flow away from your body.
Take a moment, breathe in every positive Bengals thought in your mind. Then breathe out every piece of doubt you have.
This column is about the Bengals ceiling, their absolute best possible performance in 2021. What happens if everything goes right for the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals?
Joe Burrow is Healthy
The order of this list is intentional. The higher on this list, the more likely it is.
Joe Burrow’s health is the absolute last thing to be worrying about as a Bengals fan right now. This kid is tough as nails and smart as a whip. His participation in rehab has been exemplary, just ask his doctor, Dr. Neal ElAttrache.
“He’s doing all the work. He’s worked his tail off and been an amazingly mature participant in his recovery. He’s focused and great to work with.”
“We are very happy with his recovery to say the least,” Dr.ElAttrache texted ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The idea that Joe Burrow would be healthy by week 1 should not have been a surprise to anyone familiar with Burrow’s recovery timetable. Nor should it have been a surprise to anyone in the national media, but alas those with the most eyeballs did the least amount of research.
Ja’Marr Chase is Elite
Ja’Marr Chase has the highest statistical ceiling of any rookie wide receiver in a long time. There are three things a talented wideout needs to thrive statistically: Talent, a QB, and targets.
Chase has a boatload of talent, just look at the success of the #2 WR behind Ja’Marr at LSU. Justin Jefferson was simply a preview of the ‘Uno’ show.
The presence of Burrow answers what would have been the biggest question surrounding Chase, “Was it all just Burrow?” Since the Bengals have Burrow, that is not a relevant concern. Plus, his familiarity with the quarterback and role he will be asked to play under Zac Taylor only speeds his development. Chase will be loaded with targets, catches, yards, and touchdowns.
The rookie already said he wants 1500 yards and 10 TD’s in 2021. Are those goals? Or prophecies?
Frank Pollack is a Genius
The headline of this paragraph could also be, “Jim Turner was the problem all along.”
Some of the horrendous rumors that came out surrounding the oft-maligned offensive line coach made it seem like Turner was the staffs primary issue. Given the fact firing Turner was one of the premier offseason moves made by the Bengals, they agree with this narrative.
One guy can really ruin a room. We’ve all been there before, the asshole that makes everyone uncomfortable. He makes you squirm in your chair, and forces the hairs to stand on your neck.
If Turner was truly that bad, then Pollack doesn’t need to be a genius. His presence alone may change the entire culture of the Bengals in the trenches.
Evan McPherson is Great
Make getting points 10 yards easier and Burrow will certainly take advantage. If this pick can repent for the sin of cutting Jake Elliott its a positive sign for the mojo of the #NewStripes.
Plus, having the trick shot kicker is fun.
Injury and Turnover Luck
Did the Bengals use all of their injury and turnover luck to start 8-0 in 2015? Or did they make a deal with the devil way back in 2005?
It’s truly the only possible way to explain the current run of bad luck (or bad form) in terms of injuries and turnovers. The classic thinking about turnovers and injuries is that they fluctuate wildly from year to year. For most teams they do, look at San Francisco from 2019 to 2020.
Somehow going against league trends, Cincinnati has found a way to lose their luck in terms of injuries and turnovers.
The injury luck statistics come from the great folks at football outsiders.
Just take a look at this chart and see the correlation between injury luck/turnovers and the Bengals success. It is common sense that being lucky helps a teams record. Eventually the luck will have to swing around, right?
A Division Rival Collapses
A team is only as good as its record. A teams record is mainly determined by six divisional games. Therefore a team is only as good as its divisional standing.
This NFL reality hurts the Bengals in 2021. The Ravens and Browns are bonafide Super Bowl contenders according to Vegas, and Mike Tomlin has yet to have a losing season. One of these three teams needs to have a down year for the Bengals to reach their ceiling in 2021, that’s just math.
The Steelers are the most likely candidate, with a meaty 40-year old quarterback who runs about a 4.9 20-yard dash. If Big Ben Roethlisberger finally ends his Hall of Fame level production and sinks Pittsburgh, a window could open for the Bengals.
This scenario puts the first sweep of the Steelers since 2009 on the table (which we predicted).
Lou’s Defensive Vision Works
This is the least likely of the Cincinnati Bengals ‘what-ifs’ for the 2021 season. Lou Anarumo survived a scorching hot seat through all of 2020. Disgruntled players, blown leads and assignments all stacked onto Anarumo’s shoulders.
Although Anarumo ran into a few good game plans and other defensive players have come to his defense, the doubt remains. Lou will be the first to go if the Bengals season goes sideways. He will be the final fall guy for Zac Taylor, who’s relationship with Burrow kept him in Cincinnati.
2021 is a new year and the Bengals are a brand new unit on defense. Trae Waynes and DJ Reader are healthy, and the secondary feels ready to compete in a physical division. The draft class is stocked full of high-motor athletes that could add the nastiness needed for the worst pass rush in the NFL. A young linebacker core is entering another year of development and could take that step towards being a solid NFL unit.
If Anarumo can get the defensive side of the ball to click the way he’s envisioned and promised, it could be a truly special year in 2021.
If all of this happens, what happens?
If the unthinkable happens and everything goes right in a Cincinnati sport, the 2021 Bengals will be the best chance the city has had at a championship since the 2012 Reds.
The Bengals would have a Top 5 offense in the NFL with Burrow gunning for an MVP award. The #NewStripes would sell like crazy and fans will reminisce about the 1981 uniform change that sparked a Super Bowl run.
The influence of Burrow on the locker room took a year to take affect at LSU. Perhaps the Bengals are in for a similar year-to-year jump under their captain.
Whatever may happen, use this time of year to be hopeful.