NFL Pick: 2023 Cincinnati Bengals Under 11.5 Wins (-162) at BetRivers
The Cincinnati Bengals came up a drive short in their pursuit of back-to-back Super Bowl appearances last season. But with a top passing offense returning most of its key pieces and a respectable defense, the Bengals remain a Super Bowl favorite in the 2023 season.
Many of the top sportsbooks have the Bengals with an over/under of 11.5 wins, tied for the highest amount by any team this year. They are also favored ahead of Baltimore to win the AFC North, a division that has never been won 3 years in a row by the same team.
Is getting a better left tackle and healthy at offensive line all the Bengals need to get over the hump? What about a No. 1 seed, so they can stop having to travel for these big playoff matchups in the AFC?
We look at the team’s chances of taking that next step this season.
Any day now, the Bengals are going to make Joe Burrow the highest-paid player in NFL history. It only makes sense they would invest in his offensive line as well. But is that all the Bengals needed to do to get past the Chiefs for a Super Bowl win?
Does Orlando Brown Swing the Pendulum to Cincy?
It makes a lot of sense that the Bengals would view offensive line as the unit it must improve the most to get to where they want. In his last 31 games, Burrow is 21-1 when he takes fewer than 5 sacks and 1-8 when he is sacked 5-plus times.
Late last season, the Bengals ran into some troubling offensive line injuries that would decimate most teams:
- Right tackle La’el Collins was injured in Week 16 against the Patriots and missed the rest of the season.
- Right guard Alex Cappa was injured in Week 18 against Baltimore and missed the playoffs.
- Left tackle Jonah Williams was injured during the wild card win over Baltimore, and he missed the last 2 playoff games.
This means the offense won in Buffalo with 60% of the starting offensive line out, including both tackles, which is good news for Burrow since that was the best playoff performance of his career. However, you could argue the team caught some breaks with the light snow making it tough to get any traction to generate a pass rush, and the Bills were down bad in that department after future Hall of Famer Von Miller tore his ACL on Thanksgiving. If the teams meet again in January 2024, the stars may not align so well for the Bengals.
In Kansas City, the backup-heavy line struggled hard out of the gates, with Burrow quickly taking 4 sacks. However, the line found a groove and it was not until a crucial third down with the game tied 20-20 when the Chiefs finally got that 5th sack, which proved to be massive for the outcome.
A New Face from KC
This season, the Bengals are getting their linemen back healthy, and Williams will move to right tackle, meaning only 1-of-5 starters will be a new player. That new player is none other than Orlando Brown Jr., the left tackle for the Chiefs last year.
Strengthen your team while weakening the defending champs? It is a win-win move for the Bengals, who signed Brown to a 4-year deal worth $64 million. Brown was also formerly a right tackle in Baltimore, including the 2019 season when Lamar Jackson was MVP, and the team was the AFC’s No. 1 seed with the best offense.
But there is a “correlation is not causation” problem here. Before we start concluding that Brown at tackle is the key to a quarterback’s MVP season, shouldn’t we be acknowledging that his first season as Patrick Mahomes’ left tackle in 2021 was by far Mahomes’ worst season in the NFL?
Also, the Ravens and Chiefs are two of the smartest and most successful franchises in the last several years in the NFL. If they thought Brown was an elite tackle, why would they not find a way to keep him beyond 2 or 3 seasons? He is only 27 years old and already on his 3rd team in his 6th season. Safe to say these teams do not look at Brown and see Willie Roaf or Jonathan Ogden, and the Bengals better not think they are getting a legend like Anthony Munoz, Cincinnati’s No. 1 Hall of Famer.
Brown is one of 28 offensive tackles to make 4 Pro Bowls in his first 6 seasons. But Brown, Jake Long, and Bob Brown (no relation) are the only players out of those 28 to play for multiple teams in their first 6 seasons. Long and Bob Brown played 5 years with their first team before moving to a 2nd team in Year 6. It is not comparable to Brown Jr. already on his 3rd team.
Success Hinges on Improved Offensive Line
Brown should help this become the best line Burrow has played with, but offensive line is such a unit position. You would rather have 5 solid players than 1 stud and 4 scrubs on your line. A left tackle can only do so much. The 2013 Broncos, the NFL’s only 600-point team, saw their record-breaking offense fall into a 22-0 hole in Super Bowl 48 against Seattle thanks to two quick edge pressures given up by the right tackle in the 1st half that night.
Also, the notion that a quarterback’s health will correlate with the quality of his offensive line is a bit spotty and hard to trust without clear data. Generally, style of play is going to correlate best with a quarterback’s health, and the pocket passers who get rid of the ball quickly are most likely to keep playing week after week.
Alas, injuries can be random too. In this preseason, the biggest quarterback injury has been Burrow suffering a calf strain in camp. This will reportedly sideline him for several weeks. Does that mean he will miss any games that count in September? We are not there yet, but it is not a good start to the season for the Bengals.
Burrow is understandably going to reset the market with his new contract when it comes. But criticism of the line are going to start ringing hollow if he cannot find a way to string together enough plays to put this offense in field goal range to avoid losses like Super Bowl 56 and the 2022 AFC Championship Game from continuing to happen to this team.
Finally, the other big news for the Bengals is that, for a Super Bowl contender that has been so close, they really did not make any big splashes outside of offensive line to improve the team for 2023. In fact, you could argue after setting aside the offensive line, the Bengals are fielding an equal or worse team to what they had in 2022.
- Replacing tight end Hayden Hurst with Minnesota’s Irv Smith Jr. is replacing one underachieving high draft pick with another for a team that will still go through the big wide receiver trio (Chase, Higgins, and Tyler Boyd).
- A lot of movement in the secondary, and safeties Vonn Bell (Panthers) and Jessie Bates III (Falcons) will be missed more than corners Eli Apple and Tre Flowers. But even if you are happy to see Apple and Flowers go as a Bengals fan, adding Rams safety Nick Scott and Raiders corner Sidney Jones is a lateral movement to make sure weaknesses still exist in this secondary.
- Running back Samaje Perine was a solid backup to Joe Mixon and made some crucial catches for Burrow the last 2 seasons. He may be replaced by 5th-round rookie Chase Brown from Illinois.
- Even punter Kevin Huber has retired after 15 seasons with the team, and the Bengals will go with 6th-round rookie Brad Robbins this year.
Finally, the Bengals used the No. 28 pick in the 1st round on defensive end Myles Murphy from Clemson, where he had 18.5 sacks in 3 seasons. He does not have to start this year, but he can be part of the pass-rushing rotation behind edge rushers Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard.
2023 Schedule Analysis and Pick
For a team like the Bengals, it is easier to figure out which games they are most likely to lose rather than which ones they should win. It usually takes a good team to beat the Bengals now – 8 of Cincinnati’s last 12 losses have been to teams with a winning record, as division rival Cleveland has 3-of-4 wins by a losing team.
Cincinnati’s schedule does not appear overloaded with playoff hopefuls, but there are some challenging games for sure:
- The Bengals have road trips in Baltimore (Week 2), San Francisco (Week 8), Jacksonville (Week 13), and Kansas City (Week 17) – three division favorites and the main rival in the AFC North.
- The Bengals open with Cleveland and Baltimore, two tough division games, and we will have to see if Burrow’s mobility is limited in any way with the calf injury.
- For the Baltimore rematch in Week 11, the Bengals will be on the road in a short week for a Thursday night game.
- The Bengals have to face Buffalo in Week 9, a week after traveling to San Francisco.
As someone who has favored Baltimore to win back the AFC North this season, it would be counterproductive to think the Ravens and Bengals both finish 12-5 with a series sweep, which would lead to more tie-breakers being applied. The Bengals are capable of losing 3 division games like they did last year, because we know the Browns play them well (Deshaun Watson could be better in 2023), and the Steelers have the potential with that pass rush led by T.J. Watt.
Losing in Kansas City is always on the table, the Jaguars could take a step forward, and the 49ers’ ability to score and rush with Nick Bosa could be a problematic matchup.
The Bengals are going to be on a short list of the best Super Bowl contenders this year, but the team does not look overwhelmingly better than their rivals to predict them to be a No. 1 seed or anything that would easily clear over 11.5 wins.
This could be an 11-6 wild card team, health permitting around the league at quarterback. We’ll take the under on the Bengals for your NFL picks.
NFL Pick: 2023 Cincinnati Bengals Under 11.5 Wins (-162) at BetRivers
2022 Recap: Familiar Sting of the Sack
After starting 0-2 with losses to the Steelers and Cowboys, the Bengals were looking like the latest team to have a Super Bowl loser’s hangover. Despite thinking they had improved the offensive line, the Bengals watched Joe Burrow take 13 sacks in those losses to start the season.
Granted, the Bengals lost each game by 3 points and would have defeated Pittsburgh despite 5 Burrow turnovers if the long snapper could execute a simple short kick just once in 2 opportunities. But those defenses also had elite pass rushers in T.J. Watt and Micah Parsons, and that continues to be an issue for these Bengals.
The team got back on track by beating the Jets, then caught a break when Tua Tagovailoa left their Week 4 Thursday night class with a scary concussion. The Bengals dropped a close game in Baltimore, then scored at least 30 points against the Saints and Falcons in wins.
But with wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase injured, the Bengals struggled again with the Browns, losing 32-13 to fall to 4-4. However, the Bengals did not lose again in the regular season, finishing 12-4.
They dropped 37 points in the Pittsburgh rematch, closed out the Titans in the fourth quarter again, and Chase returned just in time for the latest showdown with Kansas City. The Bengals improved to 3-0 against the Chiefs since 2021. with each win by 3 points.
Burrow finally got a win over Cleveland in Week 14, then the team used an incredible run of turnovers in Tampa Bay to turn that game around for a 34-23 victory. The Bengals nearly blew a 22-0 lead in New England, but the Patriots fumbled on a first-and-goal late in the game.
Week 17 brought a highly anticipated Monday night battle between the Bengals and Bills, the first clash between Burrow and Josh Allen in the NFL. But halfway through the first quarter, a routine tackle by safety Damar Hamlin on a Tee Higgins catch saw Hamlin collapse on the field. The players sat in stunned silence as the medical team saved Hamlin’s life, but the game ended up being canceled and was not to be made up, leaving the Bengals and Bills with 16-game records instead of 17 games like everyone else.
Challenges on the Road
With Baltimore playing some key backups in Week 18, the Bengals clinched the AFC North and finished 12-4, good enough for the No. 3 seed. In the wild card round, the Bengals hosted Baltimore and were fortunate to face backup quarterback Tyler Huntley instead of Lamar Jackson. But unlike in 2021 when Burrow shredded a lesser Baltimore defense for over 900 yards in the two meetings, he found things a lot harder last season.
The game was tied in the fourth quarter before a quarterback sneak by the Ravens backfired and Sam Hubbard returned a fumble 98 yards for a game-winning touchdown, the longest fumble return score in playoff history.
This set up a divisional round match in Buffalo, which may have rubbed some Cincinnati players the wrong way. Had their Week 17 game been made up and the Bengals won, both teams would have been 13-4 with the Bengals holding the head-to-head tie-breaker for the No. 2 seed. Yet, the NFL only put in a neutral field scenario for the AFC Championship Game if it was going to be Buffalo vs. Kansas City.
Either way, the Bengals took control of the game from the first drive and crushed the Bills 27-10 despite losing multiple offensive linemen to injury late in the season. They held up well against the lack of pass rush from the Bills, and Burrow greatly outplayed Allen.
The Kansas City Game
This set up another AFC title game between the Bengals and Chiefs in Kansas City with some calling the site “Burrowhead” due to the 3-0 record for Burrow over Mahomes in the NFL. But despite playing on a high-ankle sprain, Mahomes played a great game and had the Chiefs controlling play for most of the day.
But with the game tied 20-20 in the fourth quarter, Burrow ended up throwing an interception and taking a crucial third-down sack on his final possessions. It was the 5th sack of the game on Burrow, and he was sacked at least 5 times in 4-of-5 losses last season.
Mahomes got the ball back and scrambled on a play where he was pushed out of bounds, leading to a 15-yard flag and shorter game-winning field goal attempt. The kick was good and this time it was Kansas City winning by 3 points over the Bengals to end their season and make this the premiere rivalry in the NFL right now.