CINCINNATI BENGALS 2022 WIN PREDICTION

BY ADAM GREENE

For the first time in his three seasons at the helm of the Cincinnati Bengals, head coach Zac Taylor went into battle with a legitimate NFL quarterback. That QB, Joe Burrow, took the league by storm, got tabbed as the “next Tom Brady” and hauled the Bengals all the way to the Super Bowl.

Cincinnati fell just short in that game, losing 23-20 to the Los Angeles Rams, but their AFC Championship run should not be diminished. They ran a gauntlet to get to Super Bowl LVI where Taylor faced off against his old boss Sean McVay. They knocked off the Las Vegas Raiders 26-19 in the Wild Card round, then beat the No. 1 seeded Tennessee Titans 19-16 in the AFC Divisional Round before booting the two-time defending AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs 27-24 in overtime. It was just the second playoff loss at Arrowhead in the Andy Reid/Patrick Mahomes era.

While the Bengals had to be better than the 4-11-1 team from 2020, few thought they’d be the next to last man standing in 2021-22. Cincinnati opened the year 3-1, but that one loss was a bad one, a 20-17 toe stub at the Chicago Bears.

They had another ugly loss at the New York Jets, 34-31 on Halloween and, while they were swept by the Cleveland Browns, the second defeat came in Week 18 when they’d already secured the AFC North title and rested starters for the playoffs.

This was a team that should have gone 12-5 with the capability of finishing 13-4 a year ago. Their playoff run proved it, so all they have to do now is build on what they accomplished last year.

In his second season and first one healthy, Burrow completed 70.4 percent of his passes for 4,611 yards, 34 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Joe Mixon rushed for 1,205 yards and 13 touchdowns while adding 314 yards receiving and three receiving TDs. Ja’Marr Chase, on his way to a 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year award, caught 81 passes for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns. Tee Higgins also eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark, catching 74 balls for 1,091 yards and six scores. Tyler Boyd nearly got there too, hauling in 67 targets for 828 yards and five touchdowns.

The defense finished ranked No. 18 in yards surrendered and No. 17 in points. Trey Hendrickson led the team with 14 sacks, but both Sam Hubbard (7.5) and Larry Ogunjobi (seven) were huge factors in the pass rush.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Last season: 10-7, AFC Champion

Odds: Over 9.5 wins (-135), Under 9.5 wins (+105)

2022 NFL Draft: Daxton Hill, Safety, Michigan (Round 1), Cam Taylor-Britt, CB, Nebraska (Round 2), Zachary Carter, DE, Florida (Round 3), Cordell Volson, OG, North Dakota (Round 4), Tycen Anderson, Safety, Toledo (Round 5), Jeffrey Gunter, Edge (Round 7)

2022 Additions: Alex Cappa, OG (free agent), La’el Collins, RT (free agent), Ted Karras, Center (free agent), Hayden Hurst, TE (free agent), Nick Eubanks, TE (free agent)

Projected Starters

Offense

QB: Joe Burrow

RB: Joe Mixon

WR: Ja’Marr Chase

WR: Tee Higgins

WR: Tyler Boyd

TE: Hayden Hurst

LT: Jonah Williams

LG: Jackson Carman

C:  Ted Karras

RG: Alex Cappa

RT: La’el Collins

Defense

LDE: Sam Hubbard

LDT: DJ Reader

RDT: BJ Hill

RDE: Trey Hendrickson

WLB: Logan Wilson

MLB: Germaine Pratt

SLB: Akeem Davis-Gaither

CB: Chidobe Awuzie

CB: Eli Apple

SS: Vonn Bell

FS: Jessie Bates III

Special Teams

PK: Evan McPherson

P: Kevin Huber

PR: Trent Taylor

KR: Chris Harris

PREVIEW

There was a gaping hole on the Bengals roster a year ago and they won in spite of it, making it all the way to the Super Bowl. Cincy’s offensive line was one of the worst in the league and, to no one’s surprise, it was that weakness that showed up on the biggest stage as the Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald easily cut through Cincinnati’s O-line to toss Burrow to the ground and force an errant pass to end the game.

It was a problem that could be easily solved with money, so the Bengals tossed cash at it, adding guard Alex Cappa from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, tackle La’el Collins from the Dallas Cowboys and center Ted Karras from the New England Patriots. Plugged in alongside former first round selection Jonah Williams and 2021 second rounder Jackson Carman, the line should now be a strength heading into the 2022 campaign. And this is a team with a lot of strengths.

Cincinnati nearly stole a Super Bowl six months ago, so the first thing they must do is get over that. The Super Bowl hangover is real and even good teams have to deal with it. Last year, the Chiefs were sluggish out of the gate before finding their footing in October. The Bengals are not in a division, or conference, where that kind of early stumble won’t hurt you. Anything other than playing like a defending conference champion early could cost Cincy playoff positioning or even a playoff spot.

Their schedule is backloaded, which will set up some pretty interesting television games come November and December while giving the Super Bowl runners up a chance to get their sea legs early in the season. Their first four games are hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers, playing at the Dallas Cowboys, at the Jets and then hosting the Miami Dolphins. Three of those teams finished with winning records a season ago, but none of them are as talented as the Bengals. I expect a 3-1 start here at worst and would not be shocked at all to see Cincy open 5-0 after these four and a trip to the Baltimore Ravens, a team they swept a season ago (even with a healthy Lamar Jackson playing in the first meeting).

Cincinnati will probably be more than happy to travel to a Cleveland Browns team fielding Jacoby Brissett or Josh Rosen in Week 8 (if the NFL gets its way on its Deshaun Watson suspension).

December gets all too real for the Bengals, when they host the Chiefs and (possibly) Watson-led Browns, then travel to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, then at the New England Patriots before wrapping up Week 18 hosting the Ravens.

This is the kind of schedule you earn by finishing the season as the second best team in football. I think Cincinnati will be right back in the mix again as long as Joe Burrow stays healthy.

Final record prediction: 12-5

Follow Adam Greene on Twitter @TheFirstMan.

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