Updated: Apr 10
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lombardi_Trophy.png)
There might not be a better time than right now to bet on the Cincinnati Bengals to win the Super Bowl. Despite appearing in the big game just over a month ago - and coming within a minute of winning the whole dang thing - the Bengals sit at +2000 to win the Super Bowl, 11th-best out of the 32 NFL franchises.
How is this possible? Ever since the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement was ratified in 2011 and the rookie wage scale was implemented for the first time, NFL talking heads have been saying over and over that a stud quarterback on his rookie contract is the most valuable piece to creating a Super Bowl-roster. Well, the Bengals happen to have one: Joe Burrow.
So, if the Bengals have their stud QB on a rookie contract, what seems to be the problem, Vegas?
For some reason, the sports books and bettors seem to favor several other AFC teams ahead of the Bengals. It’s particularly surprising given that a few didn’t even make the playoffs in 2021 (hello Chargers, Browns and Broncos) and others are appreciably worse than when the free agency period started on March 17.
Prior to the AFC Championship Game, the futures’ odds for the Super Bowl were as follows:
Kansas City Chiefs +700
Buffalo Bills +800
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +1000
Los Angeles Rams +1100
Green Bay Packers +1200
Dallas Cowboys +1200
San Francisco 49ers +1400
Cincinnati Bengals +1400
Baltimore Ravens +1800
Tie: New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans +2000
Even three months ago, we can see that the Bengals aren’t being respected. The Bills and Chiefs lead the way despite the Bills losing in the Divisional Round the previous week and the Chiefs going through a strange and difficult 2021 regular season. But those two teams being favored is forgivable, especially considering that the Divisional Round matchup between the two was one of the greatest offensive displays in NFL playoff history. The rest of the Super Bowl favorites list is head-scratching.
The Buccaneers, despite losing the previous week to the Rams and not looking particularly great in the loss, were somehow considered more likely to reach Super Bowl LVII. Ditto for the Packers, who lost the previous week to the 49ers.
The most hilarious of this list is the Cowboys at 6th. This is actually stupid. The Cowboys haven't even been to an NFC Championship Game since 1995, also the last time they won the Super Bowl. The Cowboys were also embarrassed in the Wild Card Round by the 49ers. But, according to Vegas, this is a team that appears more likely than the Bengals to reach the Super Bowl. Sure.
The Bengals had the eighth-best odds to reach Super Bowl LVII, which is somewhat understandable. They had not yet beaten the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, and many around the league thought it was pretty flukey that the Bengals managed to beat the Titans the week prior. Still, the Ravens, who didn’t even make the playoffs, were just one spot below the Bengals at +1800? Come on.
On February 14, one day after the Bengals narrowly lost to the Rams, the updated Super Bowl odds looked like this:
Tie: Buccaneers and Titans +2200
The list hadn’t changed much. The Chiefs remained favorites despite losing to the Bengals in embarrassing fashion for the second time. The Cowboys’ odds hilariously got better (oh gamblers, will you ever learn), and the Broncos made a surprise appearance for some reason. Russell Wilson, by the way, was still in Seattle at this point, so the reason Vegas and sports-bettors liked the Broncos is beyond me.
The Bengals, for their part, saw their Super Bowl odds stay the same, but their overall position rose as teams like the Packers, Ravens and Buccaneers saw their odds drop.
Less than a month later, on March 8, the Super Bowl odds looked like this:
March 8, as some of you may remember, was the day of the blockbuster Russell Wilson trade to the Denver Broncos, and their jump up in the Super Bowl odds reflects that move. However, as I detailed in my trade review article back on March 10, I’m not sure adding Wilson to that Broncos’ roster immediately makes them Super Bowl favorites.
To start, the Broncos didn’t make the playoffs in 2021. Yes, they have a talented defense and some interesting skill position players like Jerry Jeudy and Javonte Williams. You know what else, though? They lost a ton to bring in Wilson. Guys like Noah Fant and Shelby Harris might not be household names, but they were significant contributors to that 2021 Broncos team. Fant might have been their best skill-position player. Now he’s in Seattle. The Broncos might be able to replace Harris’ production, but do you know who will be even harder to replace? The one-of-a-kind, defensive-mastermind and now-fired former Broncos head coach Vic Fangio, who pioneered some of the Cover 2 shell looks that dominate modern NFL defensive schemes.
You know what else makes me skeptical that Denver is all of a sudden this “dream landing-spot” for a QB like Wilson? The fact that in Seattle, Wilson had arguably better offensive talent. Undoubtedly, Seattle’s wide receiver combination of D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett is better than any combination of wide receivers, tight ends and running backs Denver can offer. Seattle also saw running back Rashaad Penny break out and average over 100 rushing yards per game, 6.9 yards per carry, and score seven touchdowns in the last six regular season games. That’s a pretty electric group of skill position players.
The Chiefs, again, remained in the favorite position with the Bills, while the Packers saw their odds increase significantly. The Bengals, meanwhile, find themselves behind the Cowboys (I’m still laughing) and tied with the Ravens. The Buccaneers, as you might have noticed, dropped out of the top ten after Brady announced his retirement. Spoiler alert - they jumped ahead of the Bengals after Brady decided to come back.
Fast forward to today: free agency is underway and rosters are churning. The Bengals have had one of the better offseasons, dedicating resources to replenishing their depleted offensive line by bringing in three new potential starters. Other teams, like the Chiefs, Packers and Cowboys, have had significant departures. But wouldn’t you know it, the Super Bowl odds just don’t reflect the reality of the NFL today:
Can you spot the team that dropped out of the top ten? It’s none other than your defending AFC North champions, the AFC’s representative in Super Bowl LVI, the young, hungry and talented Cincinnati Bengals. Instead, teams like the Los Angeles Chargers and the Cleveland Browns shot up in the odds. How is this possible?
For one thing, neither of these teams even made the playoffs in 2021! I feel like I’m repeating myself. I get that missing the playoffs the year before doesn’t preclude a team from reaching the Super Bowl (as the Bengals can attest) but shouldn’t bettors be taking that into account? How can they be feeling so good about a Chargers team that needed to win one game to get into the playoffs and blew it? What about the Browns and the roller-coaster of a season they had? What about the fact that Deshaun Watson is currently facing 22 separate civil lawsuits for sexual impropriety? He’s almost certainly going to be suspended for half of the 2022 season. The Browns could win every one of Watson’s starts and still miss the playoffs because he won’t be there to help early on.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs saw absolute superstars in Tyreek Hill and Tyrann Mathieu leave and their odds barely fell. Not only that, but they also lost their top corner in Charvarius Ward, fellow cornerback Mike Hughes, safety Daniel Sorenson, and defensive lineman Jarran Reed. That’s a lot of talent departing from an already suspect defensive group.
The Buccaneers saw safety Jordan Whitehead and offensive linemen Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa leave, yet their odds increased. While they brought in Shaq Mason to soften the blow, that’s two of their interior lineman gone when it’s well-known that Tom Brady hates having pressure in his face. The Packers traded away All-Universe receiver Davante Adams. So far, the search for a replacement is still ongoing. In addition to Adams, the Pack also saw stud defensive end Za’Darius Smith sign with the rival Minnesota Vikings. It’s objective, not subjective, that the Chiefs, Bucs and Packers are all worse now than they were when free agency started.
All of these teams have better odds than the Bengals to reach Super Bowl LVII. That’s silly. The Bengals are objectively a better team today than when free agency started. That’s what happens when you have one need, and you attack it. The Bengals’ offensive line is no longer a sieve. They may have lost tight end C.J. Uzomah to the Jets, but he was the team’s fifth option at best on offense, and they brought in former first-round pick Hayden Hurst to fill the void.
Now, at the end of the day, does any of this Super Bowl odds-talk really matter? Of course not. In fact, it might benefit the Bengals as motivation. I’m sure players like Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase are going to be pissed off that the NFL world seems to think the Bengals aren’t even one of the ten most likely teams to reach Super Bowl LVII - especially when some of those teams a you’ve beaten in the past (hello Chiefs), a team that’s perpetually overrated (hello Cowboys), and a team from the division that you just won (hello Browns).
Even though the public doesn’t seem to believe it, the Bengals are maybe the best-positioned team in the NFL to make regular Super Bowl appearances over the next decade. They have a homegrown, superstar quarterback who gets to throw passes to his impossibly gifted, former college teammate Ja’Marr Chase, not to mention the ever-improving and physically-imposing Tee Higgins, the smart, smooth and shifty Tyler Boyd, and Joe Mixon, one of the most reliable, punishing, and elusive running backs in the NFL. On top of all that, the Bengals have a defense that took huge strides in 2021, and will bring back nearly every major contributor. With the draft coming up in April, the Bengals will have yet another opportunity to add to an already-stacked roster. Start placing your bets, Bengals fans