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Bengals were better than their record indicated in 2016

2016 was rough for the Bengals, but their Super Bowl odds for next year aren’t as bad as you might think. There’s a lot of reasoning that goes into that.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Based on the results of the Cincinnati Bengals’ 2016 season, finishing with the ninth worst record in the NFL, you would think the team’s odds to win next year’s Super Bowl would be pretty low. However, that is simply not the case. The Bengals actually performed better than 20 other teams in 2016, according to numberFire, based on their net expected points against an average team on a neutral field.


The Bengals actually have a decidedly average chance, according to Bovada’s Super Bowl odds, to win Super Bowl LII. Given how low the odds are for teams like the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers (+15000), the Bengals’ odds (+5000) could be seen as better than average.

On that note, teams like the Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills, and New Orleans Saints actually finished with better records than the Bengals in 2016. But, for various reasons, they are seen as teams with less of a chance to win the Super Bowl than the Bengals in 2018. The Bengals are actually in the same category as the Miami Dolphins, who made the playoffs, and one step below the Houston Texans, who won a playoff game.

A major reason for those odds is the Bengals’ relatively tough strength of schedule in 2016. Although this shouldn’t be an excuse, the Bengals did play more good teams than bad ones. The combined record of the teams they faced was 134-121-1, which includes playing the 1-15 Browns twice.

Three of the four teams that made it to their conference championship took up four of the 16 games on the Bengals’ schedule. One of those games came on the road against the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Three other games came against the Dolphins, Giants, and Texans, all of whom made the playoffs. Throw in a game against the Broncos (9-7), a game against the Redskins (8-7-1), and two games against the Ravens (8-8), and the majority of the Bengals’ games came against opponents who finished .500 or better.

That’s why numberFire’s nERD rating for the Bengals ranks ahead of most other teams in the NFL. The Bengals would have been favored to win against an average team on a neutral field by 1.34 points, but most of the teams they played in 2016 were better than that.

When you break it down like that, Bovada’s odds, giving the Bengals the 19th best chance to win the Super Bowl next season, actually seem a bit low. It would be tough to try to argue against those odds by claiming the Bengals’ rebuilding plan after 2015 was a long-term one that should have better results in 2017 than 2016. But, the various numbers do show the Bengals should not be counted out in 2017 just because they finished 6-9-1 in 2016.

That is not to say that you should go betting your house on the Bengals winning the Super Bowl any time soon, maybe they should win a playoff game first. But it is true that there is plenty of reason to be optimistic about the Bengals’ chances of success going forward. With a more experienced receiving corps, a coaching staff that doesn’t seem to be losing any pieces, and an expected 11 picks in the upcoming Draft, the Bengals are a team that others will not want to sleep on in 2017.

The Bengals’ results in 2016 were certainly not up to the standards the team has set for itself over the last half decade or so. But, the numbers show the team performed a bit better than their record makes it seem. From that point, a Super Bowl victory next year seems pretty far away, but don’t forget the Atlanta Falcons went through a rough patch and 8-8 season in 2015 before breaking out in 2016 for an appearance in Super Bowl LI.