A healthy Joe Burrow will turn around the Cincinnati Bengals
By: Reese Nasser
With the addition of a 17th game, NFL win totals will increase this season. This extra game, plus the return of star players that either missed last season due to injury or opted out due to Covid-19, could lead to a few teams seeing a big increase in win totals. Let’s take a look at the top 3 teams positioned to see an increase in wins.
The Cincinnati Bengals may be posed to make one of the biggest leaps from last season to this season. Cincinnati made it clear that this off-season would lay a foundation for this unit. Drastic improvements were made on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
The return of quarterback Joe Burrow and the addition of rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase are just the start of this new, re-built offense. This young core will also consist of Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, and Joe Mixon. The improvements don’t stop here. After signing veteran tackle Riley Reiff and drafting another young tackle in Jackson Carman, the Bengals have made moves to improve their offensive line. The expected return of offensive lineman and former first round pick Jonah Williams could eventually see this unit becoming one of the top in the league.
The defensive side of the ball has also seen large improvements. The Bengals decided to go out and sign New Orleans Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson. Hendrickson finished the season with 13.5 sacks, which was second in the NFL. After signing Hendrickson, the Bengals also decided to add Joseph Ossai in the third round of the draft. Ossai, a defensive end out of the University of Texas, recorded 5 sacks and 55 tackles in 9 games last season. Larry Ogunjobi, a defensive tackle who was previously with the Cleveland Browns, also agreed to join the Bengals. As clear improvements have been made to the demise line, the Bengals also felt a need to reinforce the secondary by bringing in veteran cornerback Trae Waynes. Waynes joins a secondary that already has Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates III.
With positive changes on both offense and defense, this Begnals team can and will be competitive this upcoming season. Don’t be shocked if they more than double their win totals from last season.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers may be the team that sees the biggest improvement from last season. A potential superbowl run wouldn’t be shocking, especially considering that they were there two seasons ago. Injuries derailed their 2020 season but 2021 will be a different story. Take a look at why the 49ers could see the biggest increase in wins.
The 49ers were arguably the most injury-riddled team in football last season. Nearly every star on their team found their way onto injured reserve at some point. Defensive end Nick Bosa tore his ACL, Tight end George Kittle broke his foot, and Quarterback Jimmy Garappolo had a high ankle sprain. These are just a few of the injuries that halted the 49ers season. But now the team is back together and ready to ball. Young wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk were also affected by injuries but proved to be a solid duo. A healthy 49ers team could be dangerous and should put the rest of the league on notice.
With the third pick in the draft, the 49ers selected North Dakota State QB Trey Lance. There is hope that Lance could bring a jolt to this offense that Garappolo hasn’t been able to. It could also allow for Kyle Shannahan, one of the brightest offensive minds in football, to open his playbook and let Lance loose. There is still no word on who will be QB1 when the season starts but the job will eventually be Lance’s. It just comes down to when the change happens.
Free Agency Signings
The 49ers were not necessarily aggressive in free agency but chose to spend money on players that were already with the team. Left tackle Trent Williams was given a 6-year extension that made him the biggest o-line signing in NFL history. They also re-signed longtime fullback Kyle Jusczyk and cornerback Jason Verett. In an attempt to fortify the line even more, Atlanta Falcons center Alex Mack was signed to a 3-year deal.
On paper, the 49ers have made all of the right moves. They drafted well and signed players that would make an instant impact. This team may have had a bad 2020 but don’t be shocked when they rise back to the top in 2021.
The Atlanta Falcons are a team that is stuck in the middle. After a lackluster 2020 season where they only won 4 games, the Falcons are on track to return to normalcy in 2021.
All in on offense
The Falcons have shown a commitment to offense and they will either win or lose with this decision. With the fourth overall pick, the Falcons took maybe the most explosive player in this draft with Florida tight end Kyle Pitts. Pitts is an athletic mystery as he comes in at 6’5” and 245 pounds yet ran a 4.40 40-yard dash. During his last season at Florida, he recorded 770 yards and 12 touchdowns on only 43 receptions. His addition in an offense that already has Julio Jones, and Calvin Ridley should terrify opposing teams as this will be a match-up nightmare. The Falcons plan was clear; surround Matt Ryan with as many weapons as possible and see what happens.
With a clear emphasis on offense, the defense may prove to be the downfall of this team. With the 40th overall pick, the Falcons grabbed safety Richie Grant from the University of Central Florida. Grant could prove to be a focal point in the Falcons secondary, which is something they have been missing for a while now. With players such as Dante Fowler and Deion Jones also returning, this defense has strong pieces. The potential is there but it will strongly depend on how these players are utilized.