The 2021 season is barely visible from the horizon, but that doesn’t stop people from predicting how the entire season will play out. One place that tries to do this with some analytics to support their view points is ESPN’s Football Outsiders.
They use “numerous factors, including personnel changes, three-year performance, standard regression toward the mean and schedule strength,” Aaron Schatz says in his article for ESPN.
This formula doesn’t favor what the Cincinnati Bengals did this offseason as it still has them ending up with the fifth overall selection in 2022. First, lets take a look at how this system has the offense improving:
Joe Burrow tore his ACL in Week 11 of last year. Through Week 11, the Bengals ranked 27th in offensive DVOA. They currently rank 24th in our offensive projections for 2021. So we’re expecting some improvement from Burrow in his second season, but not a dramatic leap forward.
Schatz also notes that adding an early offensive weapon like Ja’Marr Chase doesn’t get factored in as rookie offensive playmakers can vary so much in how much they contribute in their first season. That is very important to note as Chase’s production could have a huge impact on how much the entire offense improves.
If Chase comes out and struggles this could very well be a similar looking offense. If he adds the deep threat this offense has desperately needed, this offense could make a significant leap.
This formula also only shows a small increase in the defensive output as well. The biggest thing they go off of is the shuffling of payers not really being in their favor:
The Bengals are churning a lot of talent on defense. They’ve lost six players with approximate value of at least 4 according to Pro Football Reference. They’re adding three defenders with AV above 4 and returning D.J. Reader and Trae Waynes from injury.
There were some really good players this defense lost that were in their prime like Carl Lawson and William Jackson. Both players looked like they will be playing at the top of their positions if they weren’t already. Then there was the trade of Carlos Dunlap during the season, and Geno Atkins is still floating out there as an unknown at this point.
The Bengals spent on the defense these past two offseasons, and they added some young players in their primes. They also drafted some players that should be valuable rotational pieces this year as well. However, the idea of relying on a bunch of new faces along with first and second year players could end up taking some time to work out.
Schatz does end every section with the best possible outcome for each team, and Cincinnati fans have to hope even part of this ends up coming true:
Best-case scenario: Burrow blossoms in his second year and Chase is Offensive Rookie of the Year. The new talent fits the defense better than the old talent, and the Bengals play average or even slightly above-average defense. The special teams are great. Put it all together, and the Bengals become a winning franchise again.
It is fun to try and figure out how the season will play out before it happens. It also is even more entertaining when you add numbers behind it. However, this formula they have going on clearly favors teams that have been good over the past three seasons. There isn’t much room for teams to make drastic jumps or predict which rookies will pay huge dividends. Schatz even notes that himself with how many times teams have outplayed this prediction.
If your favorite team is listed here, don’t fret. Over the past three seasons, seven of the teams we projected to have top-10 draft picks instead ended up making the playoffs. There’s a lot of year-to-year change in the NFL, and prognostication is difficult.
It is an entertaining experiment, and this clearly wasn’t put together on a whim. However, there are clearly a lot of variables at work that would be foolish to try an quantify. This does give us a good idea of what the Bengals did this offseason as well as some areas to watch for keys to a good season, though.