Just how tough is the Cincinnati Bengals’ 2021 schedule? Three of ESPN’s top six teams are on it, helping to give the lowly Bengals’ the sixth toughest strength of schedule in the NFL (No Fun League).
But there is some good news. Three of the five teams—Detroit Lions, New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars—that ESPN rated as most likely to pick No. 1 in the 2022 NFL Draft are also on the schedule.
So, while the Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns may well be the toughest teams the Bengals will play in 2021, the Lions, Jets and Jaguars should be the easiest (if there is any such thing as easy in the National Football League).
The Lions traded franchise icon Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for failing quarterback Jared Goff and future draft picks. And the results should be predictable.
ESPN tabbed Detroit at No. 31 on its Football Power Index (FPI), ahead of only the Houston Texans, who are embroiled in the Deshaun Watson controversy.
Just how bad will the Lions be? Some publications expect Detroit to own the worst record in football in 2021, with an offense and defense both equally inept. All of which is good news for the Bengals.
Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets
The Jaguars and Jets are 29th and 30th in FPI, and both teams have a couple of things in common—rookie quarterbacks, below-average offense lines, and defenses that rank in the bottom six.
Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, is in for a rude awakening in Jacksonville. New coach, new offense and new defense all spell trouble for the team that finished with the worst record in the NFL in 2020. The growing pains will be palpable.
In New York, new head coach Robert Saleh has a lot of work to do. The Jets stumbled to a 2-14 record last year after going 7-9 the previous season. They will also be starting a rookie quarterback in Zach Wilson, the second-overall pick in the this year’s draft.
Like the Jaguars, the Jets are also starting from scratch on offense and defense. To make matters worse, New York lost its top free-agent acquisition when former Bengals’ defensive end Carl Lawson suffered a torn Achilles tendon.
These are three games the Bengals must win. Period.