The Cincinnati Bengals have been to two AFC title games and a Super Bowl over the past two seasons, so NFL predictions about the defending AFC North champions will trend toward the positive side in 2023. As Joe Burrow enters his fourth NFL campaign, the sky appears to be the limit in Cincinnati. But what are the Bengals’ best and worst-case scenarios next season?
Predicting the Best-Case Scenario for the Cincinnati Bengals’ 2023 NFL Season
If everything falls the right way for the Bengals in 2023, they could repeat the Chiefs’ accomplishments from last year: hoist the Lombardi Trophy while their quarterback wins the league MVP award.
Cincinnati will bring back almost every member of the starting offense that ranked fifth in efficiency a season ago, including the triumvirate of Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tee Higgins. The team’s only significant changes on the offensive side of the ball will come at tackle, where Orlando Brown Jr.’s presence will shift Jonah Williams to the right side, and at tight end, where Irv Smith Jr. will replace Hayden Hurst.
If Chase can stay fully healthy after a fractured hip and labral tear cost him five games, and Smith can deliver on the promise that made him a second-round pick in 2019, the Bengals’ passing offense could become even more explosive than they’ve been in recent seasons.
Whether Cincinnati’s rushing attack can keep up with its pass game is an open question. But a best-case scenario involves Joe Mixon — surprisingly still on the roster after being mentioned as a cut candidate — thriving behind Brown, who was an outstanding run blocker in Kansas City and Baltimore.
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On defense, the 2022 Bengals managed a league-average pressure rate but posted just 30 sacks, the fourth-lowest total in the NFL. Finishing up front is a clear goal for Cincinnati’s defensive line, which should be aided by first-round pick Myles Murphy.
In the back end, the Bengals are relying on two inexperienced players — 2022 first-rounder Dax Hill and free agent addition Nick Scott — to replace safeties Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell, whose veteran presence solidified the club’s secondary over the past three years. In a perfect world, Hill and Scott flourish under Lou Anarumo’s guidance and prevent Cincinnati’s defensive backfield from allowing chunk plays.
Of course, a best-case scenario wouldn’t be complete without a bit of luck. The Bengals have the second-best odds among AFC teams to make the playoffs next season, per DraftKings, but the conference is loaded, and the playoffs are often a crapshoot. It only takes one play — see Joseph Ossai’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at the end of the AFC Championship Game — to end a season.
Nothing is stopping the Bengals from securing the No. 1 seed in the AFC, grabbing home-field advantage and a first-round bye, and storming through the playoff picture en route to a Super Bowl win. And given Cincinnati’s dramatic turnaround since Burrow arrived in town, that scenario is closer to an expectation than a dream.
Predicting the Worst-Case Scenario for the Cincinnati Bengals’ 2023 NFL Season
The worst-case scenario for the Bengals in 2023 includes an injury to Burrow, but that’s almost too easy. Nearly every team in the NFL would be in trouble if their starting quarterback went down, but the gap from Burrow to Trevor Siemian is wider than the starter-to-backup chasm for many other clubs.
It’s relatively difficult to imagine Cincinnati outright missing the playoffs, but it could happen. The AFC North is arguably the second-hardest division in the NFL. The Ravens and Browns are fully expected to compete for postseason slots, while the Steelers are fringe contenders who could fight for a Wild Card berth.
There is an outcome where the AFC North is even stronger than expected, forcing the Bengals to play six challenging games within the division. If Cincinnati struggles inside the division and drops a few other unexpected contests along the way, a scenario exists where they could fail to make the postseason.
Given how dominant the Bengals’ offense has been, a step back would likely include the team’s defense failing to launch. Hill and Scott prove incapable of replacing Bates and Bell. Chidobe Awuzie is slow to recover from his ACL injury, forcing second-round rookie D.J. Turner into the starting lineup. Cincinnati can’t get enough pressure up front, and their young secondary gets repeatedly cooked in the back end.
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Aside from a defensive catastrophe that results in the Bengals failing to make the playoffs, their worst-case scenario is probably a one-and-done postseason run. In that case, Cincinnati would have missed one of its best opportunities at a Super Bowl win by failing to deliver during Burrow’s rookie contract.
Things will get more difficult for the Bengals in the near future. Burrow will likely be extended soon — once his cap charges begin to increase, Cincinnati won’t have the financial flexibility to add veteran contributors as they have in each of the last four offseasons. Higgins is a free agent after 2023. Even if the Bengals extend him or deploy the franchise tag, he’ll never be as affordable as he is now, either.
The Bengals could also lose one or both of their coordinators next year. OC Brian Callahan interviewed with the Cardinals and Colts (twice) and was considered a potential candidate for the Broncos, while Anarumo conducted two interviews with Arizona. Cincinnati could start to experience a brain drain if either coordinator leaves in 2024.
Burrow has said that the Bengals’ Super Bowl window is his “whole career,” and in many ways, he’s correct. Cincinnati should regularly be in the championship conversation for as long as Burrow remains in stripes.
But their path to contention and ability to build one of the NFL’s best rosters will never be as uncomplicated as it is right now. If the Bengals fulfill one of their worst-case scenarios and fail to make it out of the first round of the playoffs, they’ll be starting at a much more challenging competitive landscape heading into next season.