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By WizardRaceAndSports Staff Writer
The 2020 season began perfectly, as they won their first 11 games of the season, but the season did not end the way that Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin, and the Steelers had wanted: the team finished the season 1-4 and then the playoffs began: although Big Ben threw for more than 500 yards and four touchdowns, the Cleveland Browns intercepted him four times and scored the first 28 points of the game en route to the 48-37 Pittsburgh loss during “Super Wild Card Weekend” in January. At +4000 to win Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, the Steelers are a strong value bet this year.
Roethlisberger did lose some weapons in fifth-year running back James Conner, who went to Arizona, and tight end Vance McDonald, who retired. On the other side of the football, the Steelers replaced Bud Dupree with veteran Melvin Ingram III, who played his first NFL nine seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers. Pittsburgh’s hope is by pairing Ingram with fellow first-round draft pick T.J. Watt — who led the NFL in sacks last year — the team can continue its dominance on defense:
2017 – ranked seventh in the NFL in points allowed; fifth in yards allowed
2018 – 16th in points allowed; sixth in yards allowed
2019 – fifth in both points and yards allowed
2020 – third in both points and yards allowed
2021 Steelers Draft Picks
Round 1, Pick 24 – RB Najee Harris
Round 2, Pick 23 – TE Pat Freiermuth
Round 3, Pick 24 – C Kendrick Green
Round 4, Pick 23 – OT Dan Moore Jr.
Round 4, Pick 35 – LB Buddy Johnson
Round 5, Pick 12 – DE Isaiahh Loudermilk
Round 6, Pick 32 – LB Quincy Roche
Round 7, Pick 18 – S Tre Norwood
Round 7, Pick 27 – P Pressley Harvin III
Notable Other Players Added and Re-Signed by the Steelers
Dwayne Haskins, QB
Kalen Ballage, RB
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR
Zach Banner, OT
Trai Turner, G
Chaz Green, G
Melvin Ingram III, DE
Tyson Alualu, DE
Cameron Sutton, CB
Notable Steelers in New Places
James Conner, RB – Arizona Cardinals
Vance McDonald, TE – retired
Maurkice Pouncey, C – retired
Alejandro Villanueva, OT – Baltimore Ravens
David DeCastro, G – free agent
Matt Feiler, G – Los Angeles Chargers
Bud Dupree, LB – Tennessee Titans
Vince Williams, LB – retired
Mike Hilton, CB – Cincinnati Bengals
Predictions for Notable Steelers Players
The last time Ben Roethlisberger made a Pro Bowl was 2017, which was coincidentally the most recent season that the Steelers made it to the divisional round in the playoffs. On the bright side, the 39-year-old quarterback played an impressive 15 regular season games last year after playing just two contests during the prior year. The offensive line protected him well in 2020, as he had the league’s lowest sack percentage (2.1). An overhaul on the offensive line may not allow for the same production in 2021, but David DeCastro — whom the Steelers released after injuring his ankle again — thinks Pittsburgh should be able to perform well on the line with new offensive line coach Adrian Klemm. Roethlisberger would hope so too after he had a 12-3 record, 3,803 passing yards, and 33 passing touchdowns with just 10 interceptions last year.
Well, the running back situation could be interesting in Pittsburgh, as the Steelers brought in Kalen Ballage on a one-year contract in March. Then, as expected, Pittsburgh drafted a running back. The team selected two-time national champion Najee Harris with the 24th overall pick in the 2021 draft. It appears that Tomlin is shaking up his rushing game after James Conner led the Pittsburgh running backs in all major rushing statistics last season. The Steelers need a change at running back after finishing last in rushing yards and yards per attempt last year in addition to 27th in rushing touchdowns. Ballage, the 131st overall selection in 2018, has yet to produce a 100-carry NFL season, so either Benny Snell Jr. (111 rushing attempts for 368 yards and four touchdowns in 2020) will get some run or the rookie from Alabama will be looking to make a strong first impression early in the season.
While Tomlin feels out the rushing game, the top three wide receivers should be looking strong yet again in 2021:
Diontae Johnson: 88 receptions, team-high 923 yards, and seven touchdowns
Chase Claypool: 62 receptions, 873 yards, and team-high nine touchdowns
JuJu Smith-Schuster: team-high 97 receptions, 831 yards, and team-high nine touchdowns
Also, do not forget about James Washington, who had 30 catches for 392 yards and five touchdowns as well. Expect Johnson and Smith-Schuster to approach triple-digit catches in the 17-game regular season. If Johnson takes a big step in his third year and Claypool’s sophomore season is as impressive as his first, then Pittsburgh should be excited about its future at the wide receiver position.
While Vance McDonald has retired from football, Eric Ebron is back after a five-touchdown season last year. The 2020 season was his first with the Steelers, as he played in 15 games and caught 56 passes for 558 yards. The 2018 Pro Bowler has some company at the tight end position, as Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth — the 55th overall selection in 2021 — joins the squad. Freiermuth, who turns 23 years old in October, was twice a top-10 touchdown catcher in the Big Ten during his three-year college career. Roethlisberger can always accommodate more pass catchers, so Freiermuth has a chance to find his way into the mix in 2021.
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Steelers Predictions for Week 1 and the 2021 Season
Sunday, September 12, 1:00 pm ET: Steelers (+6.5) @ Bills
For Week 1, the Steelers opened as 5.5-point underdogs against the Buffalo Bills, who were the second-best team in the AFC last year. Buffalo finished with a 13-3 record, which was just one game behind the AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs. The third-best AFC team in 2020 was the Steelers, and some may argue they are being underrated for the first game of the season because books have adjusted this line to Bills -6.5. If this line continues to increase, the Steelers are a great bet in Week 1, as Pittsburgh looks to stop Buffalo’s two-game winning streak in meetings between these impressive teams.
2020 Regular Season Record: 12-4 (10-6 ATS); Lost in AFC Wild Card Round
The Steelers have a rich history of success in their franchise’s history, but the team has not won a playoff game in any of the last four seasons. Oddsmakers are projecting the AFC North to be a two-team division, and neither of those teams is named the Steelers: The Ravens are +115 to win the division, the Browns are +150, and the Steelers are +450.
Pittsburgh’s win total for this year is 8.5. This number seems a bit low considering Pittsburgh’s recent history of regular season success, so one can be optimistic about the 2021 Steelers. Therefore, the over should be considered here. In addition, for those thinking that a 10-7 season is possible, may I interest you in the +170 bet for the Steelers to make the playoffs. Pittsburgh is surprisingly -210 to miss the postseason this year. The Steelers are looking for their first playoff victory since January 15, 2017, so if Roethlisberger stays healthy and his arm has enough stamina through the newly elongated season, he could bring them to back-to-back postseasons. Another healthy season for Roethlisberger would be very helpful because if he can boost the team’s offense, then the Pittsburgh defense does not have to carry the squad throughout the season.
Read Also: AFC East Predictions and Odds
John Harbaugh enters his 14th year as the head coach of the Ravens, as Baltimore is in search of its sixth consecutive playoff appearance. Lamar Jackson (+1600 odds to win NFL MVP) saw a dip in his statistics from 2019 to 2020, so Ravens fans are hoping to see improvement from him this year. Even with the drop off, Jackson led the NFL in yards per rush attempt (6.3) and ran for a game-high 136 yards in Baltimore’s 20-13 playoff victory against the Tennessee Titans. However, the Ravens fell to the Buffalo Bills, 17-3, in the divisional round last season.
Jackson’s record as a regular season starter is a very impressive 30-7, and he will look to bring the Ravens their fourth consecutive double-digit win season. Before Jackson, Joe Flacco manned the Baltimore offense for 10 and a half seasons, and he won Super Bowl XLVII against the San Francisco 49ers. If Jackson can win a Super Bowl with Harbaugh as a head coach — the Ravens are tied for fifth with +1400 Super Bowl odds — then that would give Harbaugh double the number of Super Bowl wins as Brian Billick, who coached Baltimore for nine years and won Super Bowl XXXV. A second championship would make Harbaugh the 14th head coach all-time with multiple Super Bowl wins.
2021 Ravens Draft Picks
Round 1, Pick 27 – WR Rashod Bateman
Round 1, Pick 31 – LB Odafe Oweh
Round 3, Pick 31 – G Ben Cleveland
Round 3, Pick 41 – DB Brandon Stephens
Round 4, Pick 26 – WR Tylan Wallace
Round 5, Pick 16 – CB Shaun Wade
Round 5, Pick 27 – LB Daelin Hayes
Round 5, Pick 40 – TE Ben Mason
Notable Other Players Added and Re-Signed by the Ravens
Sammy Watkins, WR
Josh Oliver, TE
Kevin Zeitler, G
Michael Schofield, G
Alejandro Villanueva, OT
Ja’Wuan James, OT
Derek Wolfe, DE
Pernell McPhee, LB
Tyus Bowser, LB
Notable Ravens in New Places
Mark Ingram II, RB – Houston Texans
Willie Snead IV, WR – Las Vegas Raiders
Chris Moore, WR – Houston Texans
Matt Skura, C – Miami Dolphins
Morgan Cox, C – Tennessee Titans
D.J. Fluker, OT – Miami Dolphins
Yannick Ngakoue, DE – Las Vegas Raiders
Matthew Judon, LB – New England Patriots
Predictions for Notable Ravens Players
Lamar Jackson, who is reportedly considering an extension that would pay him $40 to $45 million per season, is looking to start 2021 on a good note. He posted a strong 6-1 record on the road in the regular season last year, including a 4-0 record away from home to start the season. In Week 1, the Ravens travel to Las Vegas to take on the Raiders, as Jackson plays in an NFL game at Allegiant Stadium for the first time.
Jackson has been remarkably consistent at home and on the road in his career. He has a 17-6 record at M&T Bank Stadium and the exact same 17-6 record away from home in his three years in the NFL. However, coming off his 2019 MVP season, Jackson regressed by 10 passing touchdowns and more than 200 rushing yards in 2020. After having an NFL-best 36 passing touchdowns in 2019, a 30-passing touchdown season in 2021 would be nice for the Ravens offense. The hope is that Jackson’s placement on the reserve/COVID-19 list does not hamper the beginning of his season.
Although Jackson led the team in rushing with 1,005 yards last year, rookie J.K. Dobbins (805 yards), Gus Edwards (723 yards), and former Raven Mark Ingram II (299 yards) contributed throughout last season. Dobbins dazzled with a 72-yard touchdown at Cincinnati in Week 17 en route to a career-best 160-yard day to end the regular season. In his first NFL season, he led the team in rushing touchdowns with nine while Jackson had seven. The expectation is that Edwards will not attempt more rushes (144 in 2020) than Dobbins (134) this time around. It should be Dobbins and then everyone else in the backfield, as Edwards and Justice Hill are the second and third stringers, respectively.
Both Jackson and Harbaugh are enthused by the addition of former Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Watkins has struggled to stay on the field, as he has not played a full 16-game regular season since his rookie year in 2014. A healthy Watkins in 2021 — which will be an even harder feat for him to accomplish with the extra regular season contest — would be very important for Jackson and the passing game. After bringing in eight touchdowns in 2017 during his only year with the Raiders, Watkins had just eight touchdowns combined the last three seasons in Kansas City. Ravens fans hope that Watkins and Marquise Brown can be a dynamic duo as Ravens wide receivers.
“Hollywood” Brown has changed his jersey number to No. 5, and the hope is that the fresh uniform will bring more consistently from the 24-year-old wideout. Overall, it was a strong second year, as the 25th overall selection in the 2019 draft registered team bests in the following categories: 58 receptions, 769 receiving yards, eight receiving touchdowns, and zero fumbles. Unfortunately, in nine of his games last year, he brought in fewer than 50 receiving yards. He was targeted a team-high 100 times as well. In comparison, former Raven Willie Snead IV caught 33 passes and was targeted just 48 times. Here you can take a look at how Brown fared in comparison to his teammates in terms of catch percentage last season:
Catch Percentage Ranking on Ravens 2020 Team (minimum 10 receptions)
- Nick Boyle: 82.4 percent (17 targets, 14 receptions)
- Devin Duvernay: 76.9 percent (26 targets, 20 receptions)
- J.K. Dobbins: 75 percent (24 targets, 18 receptions)
- Willie Snead: 68.8 percent (48 targets, 33 receptions)
- Mark Andrews: 65.9 percent (88 targets, 58 receptions)
- Marquise Brown: 58 percent (100 targets, 58 receptions)
- Miles Boykin: 57.6 percent (33 targets, 19 receptions)
Mark Andrews, who turns 26 years old on September 6, knows a thing or two about offseasons with Harbaugh, and he thinks that Brown will improve. Andrews is excited to see Brown’s development during the wide receiver’s first full offseason. While Brown was the team’s receiving touchdown leader in 2020, Andrews went for seven touchdowns, but he did have two fumbles, the most of any pass catcher in Baltimore last season. In 2021, it will once again be the Andrews show at tight end for the Ravens, with backup Nick Boyle (14 receptions for 113 yards and two touchdowns in nine games) already expected to miss the majority of the preseason. The 28-year-old second-string tight end had a clean-up procedure on his knee.
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Ravens Predictions for Week 1 and the 2021 Season
Monday, September 13, 8:15 pm ET: Ravens (-4) @ Raiders
The first edition of Monday Night Football in 2021 will feature Baltimore and Las Vegas. The Ravens have two nationally televised games to begin the regular season, as they will host the Kansas City Chiefs after coming home from Las Vegas. Baltimore opened as 5.5-point favorites for the contest at Las Vegas, so there appears to be some skepticism about the Ravens heading into Week 1.
If Jackson opens the 2021 season like he did last year — a 38-6 victory with three touchdowns — then Ravens fans will be very happy. Bettors who like Baltimore should take them now because this spread may not stand at Ravens -4 all the way until kickoff. The Ravens bring a strong scoring offense and defense into Week 1 against a Raiders team that has not won double-digit games in a season since 2016. Also, Jackson, John Harbaugh, and the Ravens defeated Derek Carr, Jon Gruden, and the Raiders, 34-17, in 2018.
2020 Regular Season Record: 11-5 (10-6 ATS); Lost in AFC Divisional Round
The Ravens bookended their season with a lot of success last year, but they scored just a combined 23 points in their two postseason games. Most books have Baltimore at 10.5 wins with some putting the team at 11 victories for 2021. A healthy Jackson could mean the over is a decent bet, but can he shoulder the load for another 150 rushes this season? If so, then 12 wins should be in the cards for the 2021 Ravens. The postseason will be a different animal though, as Jackson’s career postseason record is 1-3. Baltimore has averaged just 13 points per game in those four contests, so bet wisely in terms of Ravens futures.
Read Also: AFC East Predictions and Odds
Baker Mayfield (+3300 odds to win the NFL MVP) is the face of the 2021 Browns, who have the seventh-highest odds to win the Super Bowl in the NFL (+1600). In the franchise’s 75th anniversary season, Cleveland is +150 to win the division — behind only the Ravens (+115) in the AFC North — as the Browns continue their ascension. Although Kevin Stefanski’s squad had an average offense and a middle-of-the-pack defense last year, his team rose to the occasion, as the Browns made their first postseason since January 5, 2003, and won their first playoff game since January 1, 1995.
Stefanski made a splash in his first year as a professional head coach, as he went from the Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator in 2019 to the AP, PFWA, and Sporting News NFL Coach of the Year in 2020. The leader of the Browns is not even 40 years old yet and he has one of the most exciting teams in the league. The additions of Jadeveon Clowney, Takkarist McKinley, John Johnson III, and Greg Newsome II should escalate the Browns defense to another level as the squad next sets its sights on the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl.
2021 Browns Draft Picks
Round 1, Pick 26 – CB Greg Newsome II
Round 2, Pick 20 – LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
Round 3, Pick 28 – WR Anthony Schwartz
Round 4, Pick 5 – OT James Hudson
Round 4, Pick 27 – DT Tommy Togiai
Round 5, Pick 9 – LB Tony Fields II
Round 5, Pick 25 – S Richard LeCounte III
Round 6, Pick 27 – WR Demetric Felton
Notable Other Players Added and Re-Signed by the Browns
Rashard Higgins, WR
Jadeveon Clowney, DE
Takkarist McKinley, DE
Sheldon Day, DT
Anthony Walker Jr., LB
Troy Hill, CB
John Johnson III, S
Notable Browns in New Places
Olivier Vernon, DE – free agent
Larry Ogunjobi, DT – Cincinnati Bengals
B.J. Goodson, LB – free agent
Terrance Mitchell, CB – Houston Texans
Predictions for Notable Browns Players
In 2020, Baker Mayfield made it three consecutive years finishing in the top 10 in yards per completion, but more importantly, he finally limited his interceptions for the first time as an NFL quarterback:
2018: 14 interceptions; 6-7 record as a starter as a rookie
2019: 21 interceptions; 6-10 record as the Browns finished in third place in the division
2020: eight interceptions; 11-5 record as Mayfield finished with the eighth-best interception percentage in the league
It seems like 26-year-old Mayfield is ready to reach for stardom in his fourth season. The 2018 first overall pick in the draft has had a huge spotlight on him for all 48 of his games, including the two playoff contests. Under Stefanski, it seems like the sky’s the limit after Mayfield produced a top-10 QBR for the first time in his career last year. Although he is a long shot at the MVP, his odds stand at +3300, which is a decent value bet.
Many argue that Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt make up the best running back tandem in the NFL for the 2021 season. They shared the field for 12 regular season games last year and hope to do so for the full 17 games this upcoming season. Chubb, who is squatting 545 pounds as he enters his fourth NFL season, already has two Pro Bowl nominations to his name. In 2020, his 12 rushing touchdowns ranked fourth in the NFL. He ranked second in rushing yards per game in 2019 — and ranked second overall with 1,494 rushing yards that season — in addition to finishing third in rushing yards per game last season.
Not only is Chubb a very strong rusher, but he also has 72 receptions for 577 yards and two receiving touchdowns early in his career. Kareem Hunt has a strong receiving record as well: 154 receptions for 1,422 yards and 16 receiving touchdowns in his four-year career. Last year, Hunt had 236 touches for 1,145 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns, including a team-high five receiving touchdowns. Hunt and Chubb should combine for more than 20 touchdowns again this season if both are healthy.
The dynamic duos do not stop at the running back position, as Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are looking to return to their 2019 selves this year:
2019 (32 games combined): 2,209 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns combined in their first year together
2020 (22 games combined): 1,159 receiving yards and six touchdowns combined
Beckham Jr. missed the end of the 2021 season, including Cleveland’s postseason run, due to a torn ACL. The three-time Pro Bowler has not been selected to the exhibition game or an All-Pro team since 2016, but Jarvis Landry has been a Pro Bowler every year since 2015. Landry had 84 touches each in 2018 and 2019 for more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage. Then in 2020, Landry caught 72 passes for 840 yards and a career-low three touchdown receptions.
With Beckham Jr.’s injury in 2020, Rashard Higgins picked up the pieces as the second-highest producing receiver: 37 receptions for 599 yards and four touchdowns, the most touchdowns of any Browns wide receiver last year. Higgins enters his sixth season as an NFL player hoping to be an even better pass catcher after he had career highs in receiving yards and touchdowns last season.
Here is how the Browns tight end production finished in 2020:
Austin Hooper (enters 2021 season at age 26): 46 catches for 435 yards and four touchdowns
Harrison Bryant (age 23): 24 catches for 238 yards and three touchdowns
David Njoku (age 25): 19 catches for 213 yards and two touchdowns
Each tight end played at least 13 contests last year and the nine touchdowns combined ranked in the top 10 in the NFL last season. Potentially, a dynamic duo situation can arise here in 2021, as Hooper is the No. 1 tight end and either Bryant or Njoku can step up for the squad. Njoku seems to request at least one trade every year while showing tremendous off-the-field training instead of looking consistently good on the field. Therefore, the better situation seems to be with Bryant because he shows better potential than Njoku.
Browns Predictions for Week 1 and the 2021 Season
Sunday, September 12, 4:25 pm ET: Browns (+6) @ Chiefs
The Browns have a very tough test in Week 1, as they are searching for their first victory against the Chiefs since 2012. This meeting between Cleveland and Kansas City is a rematch of the divisional round from last year. Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid, and the Chiefs have been a double-digit win squad since their star quarterback was drafted 10th overall in 2017. Kansas City has won each of its Week 1 contests in that span, so this will surely be a difficult contest for Cleveland to win.
Unfortunately, the Browns placed second-round draft pick Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah on the reserve/COVID-19 list, so hopefully he is healthy soon. Cleveland has an improved defense in 2021, and the Browns should finish in the top 10 on that side of the football. Maybe this time around, the Browns can take down the Chiefs, but it does not seem like a strong bet to take Cleveland straight up or against the spread.
2020 Regular Season Record: 11-5 (6-10 ATS); Lost in AFC Divisional Round
Cleveland had a shocking 6-10 record against the spread last year, and that winning percentage was tied for the second-worst one in the league last season. This poor record is due in part to the Browns being a public team. Maybe the new 75th anniversary uniforms will help shake up that ATS record. The Browns will lean on their rushing game, which was among the best in the NFL last season, and if Beckham Jr. and Landry can return to 2019 production, then the Browns could be a decent bet for the AFC North crown.
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Joe Burrow and head coach Zac Taylor are back for 2021 after the first overall selection in the 2020 draft tore his ACL and MCL in Week 11 against the Washington Football Team last season. The Bengals own the third-worst rank in terms of Super Bowl odds (+15000), which does not instill much confidence in Burrow, who was 2-7-1 as a starter during his shortened rookie season. However, prior to the injury, the quarterback was on his way to becoming the franchise’s third AP Rookie of the Year Award winner all-time and the first since wide receiver Carl Pickens in 1992.
Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd also return for the upcoming season, as the Bengals offense attempts to get out of the basement this year. Last year, Burrow and backup quarterback Brandon Allen led the team to have the 29th-ranked offense in both points scored and total yards. Mixon missed more games than Burrow last season, as the 25-year-old running back suffered a foot injury, forcing him to miss double-digit contests.
In terms of the receiving game, the fifth overall pick should be a nice addition to the offense: wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (+1000 odds to win the NFL Rookie of the Year Award; tied for sixth overall), who was Burrow’s teammate in college in 2018 to 2019, destroyed opposing defenses in 2019, as he went for 84 receptions, 1,780 yards, and 20 touchdowns in final season at LSU. Chase decided to not play his 2020 college football season and in doing so, he concentrated on preparing to begin his professional career. Bengals fans hope that will come to fruition in his rookie season and beyond for Cincinnati.
2021 Bengals Draft Picks
Round 1, Pick 5 – WR Ja’Marr Chase
Round 2, Pick 14 – G Jackson Carman
Round 3, Pick 5 – DE Joseph Ossai
Round 4, Pick 6 – DE Cameron Sample
Round 4, Pick 17 – DT Tyler Shelvin
Round 4, Pick 34 – OT D’Ante Smith
Round 5, Pick 5 – K Evan McPherson
Round 6, Pick 6 – C Trey Hill
Round 6, Pick 18 – RB Chris Evans
Round 7, Pick 7 – DE Wyatt Hubert
Notable Other Players Added and Re-Signed by the Bengals
Thaddeus Moss, TE
Riley Reiff, OT
Trey Hendrickson, DE
Larry Ogunjobi, DT
Mike Hilton, CB
Chidobe Awuzie, CB
Ricardo Allen, S
Notable Bengals in New Places
Giovani Bernard, RB – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A.J. Green, WR – Arizona Cardinals
Carl Lawson, DE – New York Jets
John Ross, WR – New York Giants
Mackensie Alexander, CB – Minnesota Vikings
William Jackson III, CB – Washington Football Team
Predictions for Notable Bengals Players
Burrow may not play in the preseason, as he continues to work back from his knee injury. He should be 100 percent by the beginning of the regular season though. Burrow will be without veteran weapons Giovani Bernard and A.J. Green this season as well as fifth-year wide receiver John Ross. They all went to NFC teams, but the team’s highest rusher and top two receivers are back for 2021. We do not know how Burrow will be able to perform over the course of a full season, but if his first 10 NFL games are any indication, his sophomore season should be a successful one. If we were to project his 2020 statistics over 16 games, Burrow would have ranked seventh in passing yards. Here is how he would have fared:
Burrow’s 2020 statistics over a 16-game projection:
4,301 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, and eight interceptions
Unfortunately, the Bengals defense allowed him to be sacked 32 times in 10 games, which if projected out for the full 16-game schedule of 2020, would have led the NFL at 51 sacks. For those wondering, Carson Wentz actually led the league at 50 sacks taken last season. The offensive line will be the key to not only Burrow’s success in 2021 but also Mixon’s success.
Frank Pollack, who was the offensive line coach for the Bengals in 2018, went to the New York Jets to hold the same position for the last two years. Pollack has returned to Cincinnati as both the offensive line coach and run game coordinator. Mixon’s career-best season came in 2018 when Pollack was last with the team:
2017: 178 rushes, 626 rushing yards, 913 yards from scrimmage, four total touchdowns
2018: 237 rushes, 1,168 rushing yards, 1,464 yards from scrimmage, nine total touchdowns
2019: 278 rushes, 1,137 rushing yards, 1,424 yards from scrimmage, eight total touchdowns
2020: 119 rushes, 428 rushing yards, 566 yards from scrimmage, four total touchdowns
[Mixon’s career-highs are bolded]
With Bernard now with Tampa Bay, it should be the Mixon show as long as he stays healthy in 2021. For a team that had a lot of bad injury luck last year, the hope is that there is a big turnaround this season. Mixon had never played fewer than 14 games in a season in his NFL career prior to 2020, so hopefully new offensive linemen Riley Reiff and Jackson Carman — Cincinnati’s second-round pick — can help the running back have a 2018-like season.
Tee Higgins came onto the scene in his rookie year last year, and the Bengals are looking to do the same with Ja’Marr Chase. Higgins had a splendid 2020 season, finishing with 67 receptions in addition to team-highs in both receiving yards (908) and receiving touchdowns (six). With Burrow and Chase, the Bengals are looking to reconnect this tremendous twosome from just a couple of years ago.
Tyler Boyd, who finished with a team-high 79 receptions in 2020, was coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons heading into last year. Then, he finished with 841 yards in 15 games in 2020. Boyd had triple-digit targets last season and seems like he will be in a position to do so again this time around. With Burrow at the helm, look for Boyd’s third career 1,000-yard season.
The tight end position is not very strong for the Bengals, who received a total of two tight end touchdowns in 2020. That mark tied for the second-lowest total in the NFL, in front of only the New England Patriots, who had one tight end touchdown. There is a chance that Drew Sample, C.J. Uzomah, and former LSU tight end Thaddeus Moss make some noise as a part of a surprising Cincinnati offense. Before Uzomah tore his ACL in Week 2 of 2020, he caught eight passes from Burrow for 87 yards and a touchdown. In college, Moss caught 47 passes from Burrow for 570 yards and four touchdowns.
At Wizard Race and Sports, we have NFL picks every week just for you. Here’s our preview of the Week 1 matchup between the Bengals and Minnesota Vikings.
Bengals Predictions for Week 1 and the 2021 Season
Sunday, September 12, 1:00 pm ET: Bengals (+3) vs. Vikings
The Bengals will show their home crowd at Paul Brown Stadium what they are made of in Week 1 against Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, and the Vikings. Cincinnati, which recently extended defensive end Sam Hubbard for four years and $40 million, will hope that he, Carl Lawson (team-high 5.5 sacks last season), and the rest of the Bengals defense is ready to take on an impressive Minnesota rushing offense. If Cincinnati can take that away, the Bengals have a decent chance at a victory to start their season.
2020 Regular Season Record: 4-11-1 (9-7 ATS); missed postseason
Vegas has the Bengals win total at 6.5, as there is not much confidence in Zac Taylor, who is tied for the worst Coach of the Year Award odds at +6600. However, if he brings the Bengals to their first postseason in six years, then he will surely be in line for the award. The last time a Cincinnati head coach took home the award was in 2009 when Marvin Lewis led the team to a 10-6 record. As the Bengals look to build toward a return to the postseason over the next few years, they hope to stop their eight-game playoff losing streak, the second-longest in NFL history — the only team with a longer one is the Detroit Lions, and they have a current streak of nine games. If Taylor does not have the Bengals taking a step in the right direction by their Week 10 bye, then he will really be on the hot seat.
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