- by Brandon Barbour

The Cincinnati Bengals have moved on from Andy Dalton with the Joe Burrow era officially beginning. The Bengals didn’t screw this draft up and took the local kid with the top overall selection. They even provided him with a new toy at wide receiver in Tee Higgins in the beginning of the second-round. John Ross finished as the best wide out on the club last season, but his 57th-ranked DYAR shows a lack of talent.

Returning at left tackle is last season’s top selection for Cincinnati. Jonah Williams missed all of 2019 after being the first offensive lineman taken in the draft. This should help an offensive line that tied for the fifth-most allowed sacks (50) in the NFL last season, including a stuffed rate that was tied for fourth-worst at 22 percent. The Bengals were one of the worst teams across the board last year but especially against the spread. The Bengals were 6-10 against the spread and covered 37%. Although they are making updates to the roster this team should never be one of your top NFL picks.

The AFC North is simply a brutal division. The Baltimore Ravens are one of the AFC’s top-two teams and the Cleveland Browns are intriguing on paper. On top of that, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a terrific defense and welcome back Ben Roethlisberger. The Bengals are nowhere near a playoff contender, but how does this bode for their projected win total?

Cincinnati may struggle to win their first game this season. The schedule starts out strong with the Los Angeles Chargers, at the Cleveland Browns, at the Philadelphia Eagles, hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars, at the Baltimore Ravens, at the Indianapolis Colts, hosting the Cleveland Browns, hosting the Tennessee Titans, at the Pittsburgh Steelers. Wow, that’s rough. Maybe, just maybe the team could pounce on the Jaguars to take their first win in week 4. If they miss out on that opportunity, then it’s not that crazy to speculate an 0-9 start. Let’s go with 1-8 to be reasonable.

After the brutal start, Cincinnati will visit the Washington Redskins, host the New York Giants, visit the Miami Dolphins, host the Dallas Cowboys, host the Pittsburgh Steelers, visit the Houston Texans, and finish by hosting the Baltimore Ravens. Ok, this gets a bit more interesting. The Redskins and Giants contests should be very interesting. By this time, it’s fair to think that the offense and Burrow could be clicking a bit more. Let’s say they win both. Best case scenario, they’re 3-8 at this point.

The Dolphins are much improved and could be starting Tua Tagovailoa by this point, making a terrific rookie quarterback battle. Even if the Bengals pull this one out, the remaining schedule is brutal and they’d be stuck at four wins. Let’s say the Ravens are resting many starters for week 17 and the Bengals steal one. That puts them at 5-11, still under their NFL over under line of 5.5 wins. While the last two wins mentioned aren’t as practical, they’re possible. Even with the doubt, the Bengals fall short of their projected win total by sportsbooks.

This is quite a time to be a rookie quarterback in a league that’s built off repetitions, chemistry and timing with teammates, and overall knowledge. With the Covid-19 epidemic hammering sports leagues, practicing with large groups has been impossible. The 2020 season was already going to be a challenge for rookie quarterback Burrow, but this is a whole new challenge. The other teams in the AFC North won’t be dealing with the same offseason burden, as they have been with their organizations long enough to be comfortable without the reps. The future is definitely bright for the Bengals, but betting under 5.5 wins is a no-brainer, and it will be interesting to see what the NFL point spreads look like when real teams go up against this Bengals squad.

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