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Ranking the Bengals’ toughest games in 2021

Kansas City, Cleveland, and Baltimore gives Cincinnati three of the league’s top six challengers.

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals finished with a record of 4-11-1 in 2020. Only three teams in the NFL were worse: The Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets.

What you do the previous year doesn’t always reflect the difficulty of your upcoming schedule. Just ask Cincinnati, who got saddled with the sixth-toughest strength of schedule for 2021.

Figuring out who the toughest teams on that schedule might be is no easy task, but we’re gonna give it a go.

The three hardest games on the Bengals schedule in 2021 are:

1: Week 7 at Baltimore (10/24)

38-3. 27-3. 49-13. Those of the scores of the last three games against the Ravens, who are currently riding a five game winning streak. Baltimore leads the series 27-23-0, and has outscored Cincinnati by a total margin of 1,126-905.

And it does not get any easier. According to ESPN, Baltimore is expected to be the fourth-best team in the NFL this year, with a shot to knock off Kansas City for the top seed in the AFC. The Ravens are ranked in the top 10 on offense and defense and are expected to edge out Cleveland for the AFC North Title.

2: Week 17 vs. Kansas City (1/2)

At least this one is at home, not that it is likely to help all that much. The Chiefs won the Super Bowl two years ago and are coming off a disappointing loss to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl LV.

Kansas City is the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl again this season on the strength of its Patrick Mahomes-led offense. If there’s a weak point on this team, it’s the defense. Which is good news for the Bengals, whose offense should be able to score on anyone - assuming everyone stays healthy.

3: 18 at Cleveland (1/9)

If Cleveland has anything to gain in its final regular-season game of 2021, look for this to easily be one of the Bengals’ toughest games of the year. Of course, if the Browns are already assured of favorable playoff seeding, look for this to be one of the easiest.

ESPN tabbed Cleveland as the sixth-best team in the NFL in 2021, and the Browns have the seventh-best chance of reaching the Super Bowl, according to its Football Power Index (FPI).

Cleveland’s offense is projected to be the third best in the NFL, and the game could prove the ultimate test for the newly-revamped Bengals’ defense. But the Browns’ defense is middle-of-the-pack at best, so this one might come down to who has the ball last.

Any way you slice it, 2021 is not going to be a walk in the park for the Cincinnati Bengals. But, as someone once said, “that’s why they play the games.”