Cincinnati Bengals' 2021 schedule: Tough slate stands in way of playoff push

Joe Burrow and the Bengals get their first look at the Browns on Nov. 7 in Cincinnati. Michael Conroy/AP Photo

The Cincinnati Bengals' 2021 schedule was released along with the rest of the NFL slate on Wednesday.

The 2021 NFL season will kick off on Thursday, Sept. 9, with the world champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers playing host to the Dallas Cowboys (8:20 p.m. ET). ESPN's Monday Night Football opener on Sept. 13 will feature the Las Vegas Raiders hosting the Baltimore Ravens (8:15 p.m. ET).

The NFL will change its schedule for the first time in 44 years, expanding to 17 regular-season games. The final regular-season games will be played Jan. 9, 2022. The playoffs begin Jan. 15, 2022, and continue through Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13, 2022, at Los Angeles' SoFi Stadium.

Here’s what’s in store for the Bengals:


Sept. 12: vs. Minnesota

Sept. 19: at Chicago

Sept. 26: at Pittsburgh

Sept. 30: vs. Jacksonville

Oct. 10: vs. Green Bay

Oct. 17: at Detroit

Oct. 24: at Baltimore

Oct. 31: at New York Jets

Nov. 7: vs. Cleveland

Nov. 14: BYE

Nov. 21: at Las Vegas

Nov. 28: vs. Pittsburgh

Dec. 5: vs. L.A. Chargers

Dec. 12: vs. San Francisco

Dec. 19: at Denver

Dec. 26: vs. Baltimore

Jan. 2: vs. Kansas City

Jan. 9: at Cleveland

Strength of schedule: 7th, .518

Biggest takeaway

Bengals second-year quarterback Joe Burrow will get the chance to go up against some of the NFL’s top young quarterbacks. In Week 8, Burrow could potentially square off against Jets rookie Zach Wilson, the second overall pick in the draft. The marquee matchup will be on a Thursday Night Football contest against Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 30. Jacksonville is under first-year coach Urban Meyer, who notably recruited Burrow to Ohio State before going with Dwayne Haskins as the starter entering 2018, prompting Burrow’s transfer to LSU. And don’t sleep on the Dec. 5 meeting against quarterback Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers. Herbert was drafted after Burrow and easily won the Associated Press’ Offensive Rookie of the Year award after Burrow suffered a season-ending knee injury in the middle of the season.

One storyline to watch

Will the Bengals make a playoff push under third-year coach Zac Taylor? Through Taylor’s first two seasons, the Bengals have taken the franchise down to the studs in a full-scale rebuild. While that netted Burrow and rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, among other young players, Cincinnati only has six wins in Taylor’s first two years. All eyes will be on Taylor as Cincinnati should be in a position to push for a potential playoff bid after a couple of aggressive offseasons and two key drafts. If the Bengals aren’t in the mix for a postseason spot in December, there will be some questions about their long-term outlook.

What Vegas thinks

The oddsmakers have the Bengals' win total at 6.5. Frankly, those are low expectations for a franchise that should be much closer to .500. Even with Burrow coming off reconstructive knee surgery, the Bengals must hit the over for fans and the front office to feel good about the franchise’s direction.

Bold prediction

Cincinnati wins at least two games against the NFC North and the AFC North. That combination should be enough to keep the Bengals' playoff hopes afloat as they enter December.