Cincinnati Bengals 2023 season preview and predictions
This appeared in the original VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on June 29, 2023.
Adam Burke: The reigning two-time AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals have one goal this season: to win the Super Bowl. After having a top-10 scoring defense to go with a top-10 scoring offense in 2022, a late push on Patrick Mahomes in the AFC Championship Game may have been the difference between losing in heartbreaking fashion and winning the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy. With a stacked roster, the Bengals are the AFC North favorites, and some think this might be the best team in the NFL.
Last season marked the first time that the Bengals won consecutive division titles since 1981-82 and a third looks likely with Joe Burrow and a tremendous group of wide receivers. Surprisingly, the Bengals only managed 5.5 yards per play last season, but they were fifth in EPA/play and Dropback EPA, along with finishing third in Dropback Success Rate. Cincinnati’s receivers weren’t as explosive, averaging 10.8 yards per catch after averaging 12.6 in 2022, but the Bengals did shave 10 sacks off of Burrow’s total to lessen the impact of negative plays.
Along with their overall success, the Bengals were at their best when it mattered most, posting the third-best third-down conversion rate at 48.1% behind the Bills and Chiefs and the fifth-best red-zone touchdown percentage at 64.9%.
In a cruel twist of fate, the retooled offensive line suffered major injuries late in the season, including the playoffs. On paper, health is the only thing that could hold Cincinnati back.
The Bengals went from 42 sacks in 2021 to 30 sacks in 2022, but they still improved in EPA/play, Dropback EPA, and Dropback Success Rate. They did all that with just half of a season from Chidobe Awuzie, who tore his ACL in Week 8. Now they’ll have to replace safeties Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates III, who were third and fourth, respectively, in tackles and had eight of the team’s 13 interceptions.
The spotlight will be on lightly-used 2022 first-round pick Dax Hill to show the promise and potential that made him the 31st overall pick out of Michigan as he fills some big shoes in the secondary. The Bengals also isolated Rams safety Nick Scott and signed him to a three-year deal. The safety spot is the biggest question on the team, as the front seven returns intact and Awuzie’s return should help the corners.
Despite a little bit of interest during this year’s coaching carousel, offensive coordinator Brian Callahan and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo are both back, so the Bengals look very similar to last year’s team that went 12-4 and was maybe overtime against the Chiefs away from being the AFC champion again. The season win total of 11.5 leaves little margin for error with a difficult schedule, but 11-6 should also win the AFC North, so expect a division crown and a double-digit season in the ‘W’ column once again. I lean over with the Bengals win total, who, if healthy, may just win it all.
This appeared in the Updated VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on August 31, 2023.
Michael Lombardi: The Bengals have always presented a problem for any evaluator in the preseason as they don’t play their starters, and their backups don’t look sharp. Head coach Zac Taylor relies on building his team throughout the season. In each of the last two years, the Bengals have been 5-4, then peaked in late November and playoff time. They are not a great opening-day team in terms of execution. With star quarterback Joe Burrow missing all of training camp and most of the offseason work, it will take some time for him to find his groove.
What concerns me more than the eventuality of Burrow getting in rhythm is the Bengals' defense, particularly in the secondary. So far this summer, as the Bengals incorporate two new safeties into their defense, they have struggled to stop the run, allowing over 5.0 yards per carry. Nick Scott and Dax Hill have big shoes to fill replacing Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell, and it might take time before this unit is playing at a high level like last year. I trust defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo to eventually fix the issues. It just might not be in September.
Player to Watch: TE Irv Smith Jr.
Ja’Marr Chase hinted in the spring that he would be moving around more in the formations and this is the biggest wrinkle the Bengals have shown in camp. Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and Smith Jr. could be beneficiaries of this with more open space over the middle, which has been on display throughout camp. Smith has flashed consistency over the middle and figures to carry on in the tradition of receiving tight ends who flourish with Burrow at quarterback. Smith has gotten open several times in the end zone against a very good Bengals red zone defense and this bodes well for Burrow and the Bengals offense to put up good numbers once they’re inside the 20. The biggest question is how this new wrinkle is impacted by the lack of snaps in camp for Burrow. - Mike Petraglia, CLNS Media (@Trags)
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