Before explaining my eight plays on the 2023 Cincinnati Bengals (in bold down at the bottom), let’s look back at what last year’s team accomplished and what went down with the roster during the offseason.
Cincinnati finished 2022 with a 14-5 straight-up record and a 13-5-1 against-the-spread mark. The Bengals won by double-digit margins eight times, and four of their five losses came by only 11 combined points.
They closed the regular season with eight consecutive wins, going 7-0-1 ATS, but most Cincinnati backers in Week 17 cashed tickets. The line ballooned up to -11 in its 27-16 home win over Baltimore in the final hour of wagering, but it was in the -7 to -9.5 range during the week.
One week later with Baltimore again playing without star quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Bengals were fortunate – they got a 98-yard, go-ahead fumble return by Sam Hubbard early in the fourth quarter for the game’s final points – to capture a 24-17 win as 7.5-point home ‘chalk.’ It was their first non-cover since a 32-13 loss at Cleveland on Thursday Night Football back on Oct. 31.
On Jan. 22, Zac Taylor’s team went into Orchard Park to face Buffalo in the AFC semifinals in a driving snowstorm. Despite losing three starters on its offensive line in the final three weeks of the regular season, Cincinnati dominated the line of scrimmage in a 27-10 win over the Bills that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
The Bengals won outright as six-point road underdogs, hooking up money-line supporters with a payout in the +195 to +215 range. Joe Burrow completed 23-of-36 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, and Joe Mixon had 105 rushing yards and one TD on 20 attempts.
For the second straight season, the Bengals went to Arrowhead Stadium to face the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. Kansas City star QB Patrick Mahomes sprained his ankle in a home win over Jacksonville the previous week, so he was playing at less than 100 percent.
The Chiefs led 13-6 at halftime after Cincinnati settled for two short field goals from 23 and 30 yards by Evan McPherson in the second quarter. But the Bengals moved into a 13-13 tie midway through the third quarter on Burrow’s 27-yard touchdown pass to Tee Higgins.
After Kansas City went back in front 20-13 on a Mahomes’ 19-yard TD pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Cincinnati RB Samaje Perine scored on a two-yard TD run to make it 20-20 with 13:30 remaining.
From there, both teams went scoreless on a pair of possessions apiece. Then Cincinnati punted with 41 seconds left from its own 28. The 54-yard punt was fielded by KC’s Skyy Moore at his own 18, but he returned it 29 yards to the 47.
Eleven seconds dripped off the clock on the return, giving the ball to Mahomes with 30 ticks remaining. The Chiefs used their final timeout after a six-yard run took nine seconds off the clock.
After a Mahomes pass fell incomplete with 17 seconds left, the game’s crucial play went down. As Mahomes took the snap out of the shotgun, he sensed pressure from his left and up the middle. He scrambled to his right toward the sideline and went out of bounds at Cincy’s 41 with eight seconds remaining.
But Joseph Ossai hit him late and out of bounds for a 15-yard penalty, setting up the game-winning 45-yard field goal from Harrison Butker.
In Years 2 and 3 of the Burrow Era in Cincy, the Bengals have twice made the NFL’s version of the Final Four. In the 2021 campaign, they won three postseason games to advance to Super Bowl LVI.
Trailing the Rams 23-20 in the final minute, Cincinnati was only about 10 yards away from a potential tying field goal (from a rookie kicker in McPherson that was 14-of-14 on FGAs in the 2021-22 playoffs) going into a third-and-one play with 48 seconds left.
After Perine was stuffed on third down, L.A.’s Aaron Donald beat a double team to pressure Burrow into throwing incomplete before the play could develop on fourth down. The Bengals have come up just short in back-to-back seasons, but that figures to make this 2023 squad even hungrier for success.
Cincinnati is returning 10 starters on offense and eight on defense. With the exception of TE Hayden Hurst, the only offseason losses of consequence came in the secondary. Safety Jessie Bates III is the most significant defection.
With massive contract extensions looming for both Burrow and star WR Ja’Marr Chase, the Bengals’ salary cap couldn’t afford to give Bates the big payday he’d earned. Bates produced 71 tackles, eight passes broken up, four interceptions, three stuffs and one forced fumble during 16 regular-season games in 2022.
In five years with Cincinnati after getting picked No. 54 overall in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Bates played in 79 regular-season games and missed only two. He contributed 478 tackles, 43 PBU, 14 interceptions, 7.5 stuffs, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one pick-six.
Bates added 40 tackles, six PBU and two interceptions in seven postseason games. He inked a lucrative deal with Atlanta in free agency.
Hurst played in 13 regular-season games last year, hauling in 52 receptions for 414 yards and two TDs. In the playoffs, he had 13 catches for 141 yards and one TD.
Cincinnati replaced Hurst with the signing of Irv Smith Jr., a 2019 second-round pick by Minnesota. In three seasons and 37 regular-season games with the Vikings, Smith had 91 receptions for 858 yards and nine TDs.
Veteran CB Eli Apple and safety Vonn Bell are the two other defensive starters who are gone. However, the Bengals feel good about their second-year replacements in CB Cam Taylor-Britt and safety Dax Hill.
Taylor-Britt, the team’s second-round pick at No. 60 overall in the 2022 NFL Draft, had a solid rookie campaign. He had 11 tackles, three PBU and one interception in the playoffs. Taylor-Britt also recorded 55 tackles, six PBU and one forced fumble in 10 regular-season contests.
Hill was Cincy’s first-round pick out of Michigan at No. 30 in the 2022 NFL Draft. He had 16 tackles in 15 regular-season games as a rookie.
CB Chidobe Awuzie suffered a torn ACL midway through 2022, but he’s expected to be ready for the start of the season. In eight games last year, Awuzie had 35 tackles, five PBU, one forced fumble and one stuff.
Athlon’s 2023 NFL preview magazine gave the Bengals an A-minus grade for their work in the recent draft. They grabbed DE Myles Murphy out of Clemson in the first round. He produced 116 tackles, 36 tackles for loss, 18.5 sacks and six forced fumbles in three seasons with the Tigers.
Then in the next two rounds, Taylor’s team added secondary depth with second-round selection DJ Turner II, a CB from Michigan who had 17 PBU, three interceptions and one fumble recovery for a TD in the last two years for the Wolverines. Former Alabama safety Jordan Battle was a third-round steal. He recorded 250 career tackles, 10 PBU, 6.5 TFL’s, five interceptions for 156 return yards and three pick-sixes in four years with the Crimson Tide.
Day 3 of the draft produced two toys for Burrow to work with offensively. The Bengals used their fourth-round pick on WR Charlie Jones, who had 110 receptions for 1,361 yards and 12 TDs for Purdue last year. The 2022 first-team All-Big-Ten selection can also contribute on special teams.
Jones averaged 10.1 yards per punt return and had one TD for Iowa in 2020. For the Hawkeyes in 2021, he averaged 25.4 yards per kick return and had one TD on 25 attempts.
Cincinnati got another steal with its fifth-round selection, RB Chase Brown out of Illinois. Brown finished fourth nationally in rushing yards last season (1,643), and he ranks second in Fighting Illini history in career rushing yards (3,206).
He had 10 rushing TDs and a 5.0 yards-per-carry average in 2022. Brown also had 27 catches for 240 yards and three TDs. In 2021, Brown ran for 1,005 yards and five TDs with a 5.9 YPC average.
As long as he can stay healthy, Burrow is tracking to be one of the NFL’s all-time great QBs. The LSU legend outplayed Mahomes in the first three head-to-head meetings between the two, but Burrow was intercepted twice in last year’s AFC Championship Game.
Nevertheless, in seven career postseason contests, the 26-year-old Burrow had helped his team to five wins against two heartbreaking defeats by just six combined points. After tearing his ACL as a rookie, Burrow was the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year in 2021 when he completed 70.4 percent of his throws for 4,611 yards and 34 TDs.
In 16 regular-season games last year, Burrow connected on 68.3 percent of his passes for 4,475 yards with a 35/12 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He also had 257 rushing yards and five TDs.
Lindy’s Sports 2023 NFL preview magazine has Cincinnati’s passing game ranked as the best in the league. It also has the Bengals’ offense ranked No. 3 in the AFC and No. 4 in the NFL.
Lindy’s has Burrow ranked as the No. 2 QB, Chase as the No. 7 starting WR, Higgins as the third-best No. 2 WR and Tyler Boyd as the top-ranked No. 3 WR.
Despite missing four games due to an injury in 2022, Chase still had 87 catches for 1,046 yards and nine TDs in 12 regular-season contests. He had 20 receptions for 220 yards and two TDs in the playoffs.
In only three seasons, the 24-year-old Higgins already has 215 career catches for 3,028 yards and 19 TDs. Of his 215 career grabs, 152 have been for first downs. In seven career playoff games, Higgins has caught 31 balls for 457 yards and three TDs.
Boyd won’t turn 29 until mid-November. He has produced 1,028, 1,046, 841, 828 and 762 receiving yards in the last five seasons. Boyd has missed only four games in that span.
Lindy’s also ranks the Bengals’ offensive line fifth in the AFC and ninth in the NFL. This group will welcome the addition of free agent OT Orlando Brown, who is a four-time Pro Bowl selection.
The Bengals are set a left guard, where 2022 fourth-round pick Cordell Volson won the job in training camp as a rookie and didn’t miss a snap all season. Veteran Ted Karras will start at center and Alex Cappa, who missed the postseason with an ankle injury, will man the right guard spot.
La’el Collins tore ligaments in his knee on Christmas Eve, so he’s hoping to be back at some point in November or December. Until then, Jonah Williams and Jackson Carman will compete for the starting spot at right tackle.
Mixon, who will turn 27 on July 24, is entering his seventh season with the club. He already has 5,378 career rushing yards, 40 TDs and a 4.1 YPC average. Mixon also has 231 career receptions for 1,763 yards and 10 TDs.
The Bengals lost Perine in free agency, but Brown should contribute right away as a rookie. RBs Chris Evans and Trayveon Williams will also be in training camp.
Lindy’s ranks both Cincinnati’s overall defense and its defensive line unit specifically as the second-best in the AFC and the sixth-best in the NFL. The magazine also dubs the Bengals No. 2 in the AFC and No. 5 in the NFL in terms of teams that are ‘Best in the Trenches’ (offensive and defensive lines combined).
They’re No. 3 in the AFC and No. 5 in the NFL in ‘Best Skilled Talent’ (skilled talent on offense and defense combined).
Cincinnati finished 2022 ranked fifth in the NFL in scoring defense (20.1 points per game), seventh at stopping the run and No. 16 in total defense. DE Trey Hendrickson had 27 QB Hits, 14 sacks and three forced fumbles in 2021, and he finished last year with 24 QB Hits, eight sacks and three forced fumbles.
Hendrickson had five QB Hits, 3.5 sacks and one forced fumble in four postseason games in 2021, but he was limited to just one QB hit and zero sacks and three playoff games last season.
Hubbard, who just turned 28 on June 29, has only missed one game in the last two seasons. He finished the 2022 regular season with 60 tackles, 22 QB Hits, 6.5 sacks and one forced fumble. In seven postseason games over the last two seasons, Hubbard has recorded 29 tackles, seven QB Hits, six TFL’s, four sacks, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and one scoop-and-score TD.
DT D.J. Reader is the main reason Cincinnati has fielded a run defense ranked in the NFL’s top 10 the past two years. Sixth-year veteran DT B.J. Hill will start at the other inside spot.
Starting LBs Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson are solid. Pratt got a new contract in the offseason and Wilson has led Cincinnati in tackles in back-to-back seasons.
Wilson had the crucial game-changing interception in the fourth quarter of a comeback win at Tennessee in the 2021-22 AFC semifinals. A third-round pick out of Wyoming in the 2020 NFL Draft, he has started 30 of 40 regular-season games in three years, producing 256 tackles, 12 TFL’s, 11 PBU, 10 QB Hits, seven interceptions, 4.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles.
FanDuel has Cincinnati’s season win total at 11.5 shaded to the ‘under’ at a -134 price (+110 for the ‘over’). If you’re extremely bullish on Taylor’s team, FanDuel’s adjusted win totals allow gamblers to back it at ‘over’ 12.5 wins for a +220 payout and/or ‘over’ 13.5 for a +420 return.
It has the Bengals as +130 ‘chalk’ to win the AFC North. Baltimore has the next-shortest odds (+250), followed by Cleveland (+390) and Pittsburgh (+470).
DraftKings has a better number for the Bengals (+150) to win the AFC North. It has the Ravens at +220, the Browns at +425 and the Steelers at +450.
FanDuel has Cincinnati’s odds to win Super Bowl LVIII at +1000 (or 10/1). The Bengals share the fourth-shortest odds with San Francisco. Kansas City is the +600 ‘chalk,’ while the next-shortest odds belong to Philadelphia (+800) and Buffalo (+900).
DraftKings has Cincinnati with 11/1 odds to win the Super Bowl and has it at +550 to win the AFC Championship Game.
In Week 1, Cincinnati is a 2.5-point road favorite at Cleveland, but FanDuel has the Bengals at a reasonable -130 price on the money line. FanDuel has one Game of the Year spread for the Bengals, who are 3.5-point road underdogs (at a -115 price) at Kansas City on New Year’s Eve. They are +148 on the money line, while the total is 50.5 points.
Let’s examine the schedule and point out some particular spots. With Cincinnati hosting the L.A. Rams for Monday Night Football on Sept. 25, it will be on a short week the next Sunday at Tennessee.
The Bengals get their open date on Oct. 22, so they’ll have two weeks to prepare for an Oct. 29 showdown at San Francisco. Not only that, but the 49ers will be on a short week after playing MNF at Minnesota on Oct. 23. Furthermore, San Francisco has to travel East and play at Cleveland (Oct. 15) before facing the Vikings.
One spot that isn’t favorable for Taylor’s squad is a Thursday game at Baltimore on Nov. 16. In a similar situation on a short week at Cleveland last year, the Browns blasted the Bengals by 19 points.
However, playing the Ravens on TNF does give Cincinnati extra rest heading into a Nov. 26 home game vs. Pittsburgh. The Steelers will be in a back-to-back road spot after playing at Cleveland on Nov. 19.
Cincinnati will be in the favorable situation at home vs. Pittsburgh, but that won’t be the case when it travels to face the Steelers for a Saturday game (somewhat short week) on Dec. 23.
Unlike FanDuel, DraftKings has NFL spreads posted for every game all season. It has the Bengals favored in 15 of their 17 games, although they’re favored by only one point three different times – vs. Buffalo, at Baltimore and at Jacksonville.
DraftKings has Cincy as a one-point ‘dog at San Francisco and a three-point ‘dog (-105 price) at KC.
**My EIGHT In-Pocket Plays on the 2023 Bengals**
–Let’s risk 1.3 units on the Bengals at a -130 price on the money line in Week 1 at Cleveland. I’m fine with laying -2.5 (-110 price), too, but I prefer FanDuel’s -130 ML offer.
–I’m on Cincinnati for three units at +150 odds (to win 4.5 units) to win the AFC North (DraftKings). As a slight hedge to this wager, I’m not against coming back with one-half unit on the Ravens to win the loop at +250 (FanDuel). Although I think Cleveland and Pittsburgh will both be improved in 2023, I don’t see either winning the division unless Burrow and/or Lamar Jackson go down with season-ending injuries.
-As previously mentioned, DraftKings has the Bengals favored in 15 of their 17 regular-season games. If Burrow stays healthy and Cincy can avoid a major rash of injuries, I think this team has a great chance at winning 13 or 14 games. Therefore, I’ll go with the Bengals for one unit to go ‘over’ 11.5 wins for a +110 payout (and win 1.1 units), and let’s also put one-half unit on them to get ‘over’ their adjusted win total of 12.5 wins for a +220 return (risking 0.5 units to win 1.1 units).
-Circa is offering exacta odds (above tweet) for Super Bowl LVIII. As you can see in my pinned post (below) to my Twitter account, I like the Bengals to beat the Eagles in the Super Bowl. Therefore, let’s go with one-half unit for that scenario to occur at 40/1 odds.
–I like several one-unit plays on the Bengals in their Games of the Year offered at DraftKings. Let’s take them -4.5 vs. Seattle (10/15), -1 vs. Buffalo (11/5) and -5 vs. Minnesota (12/16 or 12/17).