Let's try this again.
Last season was supposed to mark the start of a new era for the Cincinnati Bengals after they selected Joe Burrow with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2020 NFL draft, but the quarterback suffered a torn ACL and MCL in a November loss to the Washington Football Team.
That put the future on temporary hold, but the AFC North team has its franchise signal-caller back with eyes on competing in a difficult division that featured three playoff teams last season.
Here is a look at the slate Burrow and Co. will have to navigate this season.
Bengals 2021 Schedule
Things could have been much worse for the Bengals when it comes to their cross-conference slate.
The AFC North will face the NFC North this season, which means four games against a division that featured just one team with a winning record during the 2020 campaign. The Green Bay Packers were the only team in the entire NFC North to finish above .500, and Cincinnati will have the chance to pad its record against the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings.
Cincinnati has a similar situation with games against the AFC West as well.
While the Kansas City Chiefs will be a daunting opponent, they were the only team in their division to finish above .500 in 2020. Like with the NFC North, that will give the Bengals a handful of chances in winnable games to bolster their record.
How they fare in those contests may ultimately decide their playoff—or draft—fate because divisional games against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns will be quite challenging.
Divisional games are pivotal for every team in the NFL but perhaps even more so for the Bengals.
After all, they were 4-11-1 last year while the Steelers, Ravens and Browns all made the playoffs with a combined record of 34-14. The only way for Cincinnati to make up any ground is faring better in the head-to-head contests within the AFC North than its 1-5 mark in 2020.
Considering Patrick Mahomes is standing in their way in the AFC West, the best chance for the Raiders and Chargers to make the playoffs is as wild-card teams. Cincinnati is in a similar position with the Steelers and Ravens in their division, which means head-to-head games against other potential wild-card contenders could carry plenty of weight.
Keeping Burrow healthy and defeating some of these AFC teams will be key for the Bengals if they are going to bounce back and have a successful season.