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Bengals Betting Preview: Revamped O-Line Can Make Cincy an Intriguing Playoff Sleeper

Don't sleep on Cincy's defense. Despite Vontaze Burfict's four-game suspension, this is a unit that has a strong collection of talent along the defensive line and in the secondary.

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Bengals 2018 win total: 6.5 (-165 over, +145 under)

Bengals 2017 record: 7-9

Key offseason acquisitions: OT Cordy Glenn, LB Preston Brown, DT Chris Baker, OT Bobby Hart, OL coach Frank Pollack

Key offseason losses: CB Adam Jones, OT Andre Smith, LB Kevin Minter, QB AJ McCarron, C Russell Bodine, RB Jeremy Hill

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Five things to keep in mind before betting the Bengals’ win total

1. After finishing second in offensive efficiency in 2015 and 11th in 2016, the Bengals’ offensive collapse last season saw them finish at 22nd. The main reason behind the unit’s downfall was the abhorrent play up front. Cincy opted to let left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Kevin Zeitler walk in free agency last year, which caused the line to suffer dramatically and it sunk the offense as a whole.

Andy Dalton constantly faced pressure, as Bengals quarterbacks were sacked on 7.3% of dropbacks in 2018. As a result, he had less time in the pocket to look down the field, and his YPA fell from 7.5 (12th in NFL) in 2017 to 6.7 (22nd). Tailbacks didn’t fare too well running behind this group either, as the OL ranked 23rd in yards created per contact, per Pro Football Focus.

The Bengals’ Week 1 starters at tackle last season were 2015 first- and second-round picks Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher. Fisher was lost for the season in early November after he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. Ogbuehi was shelved for the final few games due to a shoulder injury. While they were healthy, Ogbuehi and Fisher were graded as the 66th- and 68th-best tackles by PFF. Center Russell Bodine was also a weak link last season, though he now resides in Buffalo after signing with the Bills in March. In all, Cincy gave 10 different guys at least 80 snaps at OL last season, and all of them surrendered at least one sack.

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2. Some good news: Cincy attempted to fix its OL problem in the offseason. The Bengals acquired left tackle Corey Glenn and the No. 21 pick in the 2018 draft from the Bills in exchange for the No. 12 pick. Glenn played only five games in an injury-shortened 2017, yet was viewed as one of the top young tackles in the game before signing a five-year, $60 million extension with Buffalo in 2016. Bobby Hart enters the mix as well after signing as a free agent, and will challenge Ogbuehi and Fisher for the starting RT spot.

Cincy also addressed its line even further with the No. 21 pick, taking Ohio State center Billy Price. The 2017 Rimington Award winner for college football’s top center has started off strong protecting the QB this preseason, allowing zero pressures in 29 pass-block snaps thus far per PFF.

The Bengals also parted ways with long-time offensive line coach Paul Alexander—who had held the position since 1995— and hired Frank Pollack, who served as the Cowboys OL coach from 2015-17. That coaching switch has potential to pay big dividends. Dallas LT Tyron Smith, C Travis Frederick and RG Zack Martin made the Pro Bowl every year Pollack was at the helm. Pollack has a tall task ahead of him this time around, but the Bengals have to be excited to bring in someone with his pedigree to fix the team’s biggest problem.

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3. While the Bengals’ first two picks in the 2015 draft battle for a spot on the offensive line, Cincy will also be banking on getting more production from its first two picks in last year’s draft: John Ross and Joe Mixon. Ross, the No. 9 pick out of Washington, saw his stock rise after breaking the NFL combine record by recording an unfathomable 4.22 in the 40-yard dash. The hype didn’t translate into his rookie campaign, though, as the speedy wideout played a minuscule 17 snaps. Ross will need to be a viable deep threat to help take away some attention from A.J. Green—Green faced double teams quite a bit in 2017 and had a career-low 52.4% catch rate—and help stretch the field.

Mixon is set for a breakout sophomore campaign. The Bengals tried to juggle three tailbacks at once in the early part of last season with Mixon, Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. Mixon received the lion’s share of the carries, but Cincy awkwardly started games with Hill in the backfield before he was placed on IR in the middle of the season. Hill is now out of the picture, and Mixon is well-positioned to be the guy with Bernard as a change-of-pace back and aerial threat. Mixon’s 3.5 YPC in his rookie year won’t jump off the stat sheet, but that figure jumped to a more respectable 4.3 in the final six games.

4. Losing linebacker Vontaze Burfict for the first four games after violating league policy on PEDs is a tough pill to swallow. But Cincy’s defensive line and secondary are both strengths. Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap generate consistent pressure from the interior and along the edge respectively. Promising youngsters Carl Lawson, Jordan Willis and third-round rookie Sam Hubbard give the Bengals fresh pass rushers to rotate in. In the back end, veteran safety George Illoka was recently released, but three first-round corners will make it tough on opposing wideouts. William Jackson III was sensational in his second year, even against the NFL’s best. Per PFF, he allowed zero catches on seven targets while covering Antonio Brown, and broke up four of those passes.

5. The AFC is considerably weaker than the NFC, which will open the door for a surprise team to sneak into the playoffs (like the Bills in 2017). The Ravens’ passing game is still a mess. While the Browns had an intriguing offseason, going from 0-16 to even .500 would be miraculous with Hue Jackson still the head coach. There is a clear path for the Bengals to finish second in the AFC North and compete for a postseason bid… if their offensive line improves.

Pick: OVER 6.5 Wins

Other NFL team betting previews: Giants, SaintsPackers, Falcons, Chiefs, Bears, Chargers, Dolphins, Eagles, Seahawks