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Bengals schedule, 2021 NFL odds: Rare home opener vs. Vikings and historic regular-season finale at Browns

An electric pair at LSU, quarterback Joe Burrow and receiver Ja'Marr Chase now look to return the Cincinnati Bengals to NFL relevance.
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The Cincinnati Bengals' 2021 regular-season schedule is unique to say the least. The Bengals host the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1, which marks the first-ever Cincinnati opener at Paul Brown Stadium vs. an NFC team. Minnesota, coached by former Bengals DC Mike Zimmer, opened as a 3-point favorite. Cincy's lone prime-time game is at home vs. Jacksonville on Thursday in Week 4 and will feature the past two No. 1 overall picks in the Jags' Trevor Lawrence and Bengals' Joe Burrow. And this is hard to believe, but the Bengals will close the regular season at rival Cleveland for the first time.

In the 2019 college football season, LSU's Burrow had one of the best seasons ever by an FBS quarterback on the way to winning the Heisman Trophy, and teammate Ja'Marr Chase had one of the best seasons ever by an FBS receiver on the way to winning the Biletnikoff Award. That Tigers offense was historically good and led LSU to the national title. This year, Burrow and Chase are reunited on the Bengals, who are given an Over/Under of 6.5 wins at William Hill Sportsbook. The SportsLine Projection Model forecasts 6.2 victories.

In that 2019 season, Chase set a handful of SEC records since broken by 2020 Heisman winner DeVonta Smith, but Chase remains the only player in FBS history to average at least 20 yards per catch in a 20-TD season. With Burrow having graduated and all of the COVID issues last year, Chase opted not to play for LSU.

While there's no doubting Chase's talent, that pick will be scrutinized for years if the Bengals don't protect Burrow up front after he took a beating in an otherwise terrific rookie 2020 season. In 10 games, he was sacked 32 teams before suffering a season-ending injury.

Cincinnati could have taken prototype left tackle Penei Sewell out of Oregon (he went No. 7 to Detroit) instead of Chase at No. 5, especially considering the Bengals already had two good wideouts in Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. It's the highest Cincinnati has taken a wide receiver since it drafted A.J. Green fourth overall in 2011.

There was an internal debate in the building between Chase and Sewell, but Burrow definitely wanted Chase. The team did add an offensive lineman in Round 2 in Clemson's Jackson Carman.

In free agency, Cincinnati also addressed the offensive line in former Vikings tackle Riley Reiff. The Bengals released former starting right tackle Bobby Hart to create some cap space for Reiff and the rest of their free agent class. On defense, the team added the likes of end Trey Hendrickson, and cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton. Last season, the Bengals defense was 28th in the NFL in yards allowed per play.

Cincinnati enters 2021 having had five straight losing seasons. Coach Zac Taylor could be on the hot seat if there's not a big jump from last year's four wins – Taylor is 6-25-1 in his two seasons. The team made plenty of changes to Taylor's staff this offseason. You already hear rumors of the Bengals perhaps pursing Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady next winter as head coach if Taylor is fired. Brady was Burrow's quarterbacks coach at LSU. 

The Bengals' 2021 schedule is ranked as the 6th-toughest in the league as their 17 opponents – hosting the 49ers is the 17th game -- were a combined 144-128-0 last season.

Cincinnati Bengals trends/William Hill Sportsbook odds

  • 2020 record: 4-11-1 (9-7 against the spread, 8-8 Over/Under)
  • 2021 strength of schedule rank: 6th (opponents' combined winning percentage of .529)
  • 2021 Over/Under win total: 6.5
  • SportsLine Projection Model forecasted wins: 6.2
  • Odds to win Super Bowl 56: +10000
  • To win AFC: +5000
  • To win AFC North: +2400
  • To make playoffs: No -550, yes +400
  • NFL MVP odds: Joe Burrow +5000

Cincinnati Bengals Schedule

Week 1 vs. Minnesota Vikings: Teams have split the past four overall SU & ATS

Week 2 at Chicago Bears: Chicago has won past two in series, last 33-7 on road in 2017

Week 3 at Pittsburgh Steelers: Pittsburgh hasn't lost at home in series since 2015 and only twice in past 10

Week 4 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (TNF): Teams met last year in Cincinnati and Bengals won 33-25

Week 5 vs. Green Bay Packers: Bengals are on three-game ATS winning streak in series

Week 6 at Detroit Lions: Bengals on six-game winning streak in series (5-1 ATS)

Week 7 at Baltimore Ravens: Bengals' three-game ATS winning streak in Baltimore ended last year in 27-3 loss

Week 8 at New York Jets: Cincinnati has won past three overall in series, going 2-0-1 ATS

Week 9 vs. Cleveland Browns: Total has gone Over in five straight meetings in Cincinnati

Week 10 BYE

Week 11 at Las Vegas Raiders: Teams last met in 2019, but Raiders are 0-4 ATS in past four

Week 12 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: Cincy ended eight-game home losing streak in series with 27-17 upset last year

Week 13 vs. Los Angeles Chargers: NFL's first meeting between 2020 first-round QBs Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert

Week 14 vs. San Francisco 49ers: Added 17th opponent; Bengals have covered just one of past five in series

Week 15 at Denver Broncos: Bengals are 3-7 SU in past 10 overall meetings but 6-4 ATS

Week 16 vs. Baltimore Ravens: Baltimore is 3-1 SU & ATS in past four at Cincinnati and all three wins were blowouts

Week 17 vs. Kansas City Chiefs: First meeting since Chiefs rolled 45-10 at home in 2018

Week 18 at Cleveland Browns: Cleveland has won past three at home in series but only covered in one

Where does every player appear in our 2021 Fantasy football rankings? And which rookie quarterback will provide shocking value? Join SportsLine right now to get 2021 Fantasy football rankings, all from the model that simulated the entire season 10,000 times.

Matt Severance
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