Getty's Mitchell Lett

If you've ever wanted to know what true emotional pain is, then you should consider being a fan of the Bengals for a year, because no team tantalizes their fans more than the Cincinnati Bengals. 

Take 2019 for example. Although they finished 2-14, the Bengals were in nearly every game they played. Not only did they lose eight games by just one score, but they also held the lead at some point during 12 of their 16 games. To put that in perspective, the only other team to lead in 12 games but still manage to lose 14 times was the 1979 49ers who had Bill Walsh and Joe Montana (Walsh and Montana won the first of three Super Bowls together just three years after that). 

In 2020, the Bengals went 4-11-1 and the tantalizing part is that five of those 11 losses came by five points or less. Basically, it feels like the Bengals are always on the cusp of being good, but they never actually end up being good. Of course, if there's any year where they might actually get over hump, it feels like 2021 is the season where it could happen. 

Not only are they expected to have a completely healthy Joe Burrow -- who's already back on the field in limited fashion -- but they're going to have a totally revamped offensive line in front of him. The Bengals offensive line was the laughingstock of the league last year, only Burrow wasn't laughing, because you wouldn't be laughing either if you got hit as often as he did. 

For the Bengals, the only thing that was as close to being as bad as their offensive line in 2020 was their  defense. Cincinnati had one of the worst defenses in the NFL last season, but that should be changing this year. Not only did they add key free agents like Trey Hendrickson and Larry Ogunjobi, but they're also getting several key players back who missed a lot of time due to injury last season. Both Trae Waynes (missed all of 2020 due to injury) and D.J. Reader (missed 11 games due to injury) will be fully healthy, which should make the defense better. 

Offensively, not only should the Bengals line be better, but Burrow also has a fun new offensive weapon in the form of Ja'Marr Chase, who will be joining a receiving corps that was already good. 

Basically, there are a lot of reasons why the Bengals should win substantially more games this year, and the biggest reason is that their team is better. 

Am I trying to talk myself into a Bengals playoff berth? Maybe. 

Let's get to the 2021 week-by-week predictions and find out how good I think the Bengals are going to be this year.

Odds for Week 1 are provided by William Hill Sportsbook. Odds for each week after that were provided by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. (Over/Under win totals for every opponent courtesy of William Hill Sportsbook).

Note: Last year, I predicted the Bengals would go 7-9 and although i was off, I feel good about the prediction. If Burrow doesn't get hurt, I think they would have finished with six to eight wins. Of course, you don't care about last year, so let's get to this year's prediction. 

Week 1 vs. Vikings

Line: Bengals +3
Opponent win total: O/U 8.5

This is a perfect opener for the Bengals. With Burrow likely making his return to the field, the Bengals get to face a very beatable team at home. Burrow's mouth should be watering at the thought of going up against a Vikings team that had one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL last year. As long as Burrow has time to throw, the Bengals should be able to score a lot of points. The good news for the Bengals is that this is going to be a revenge game for their new starting tackle, Riley Reiff, who spent his past four years in Minnesota. That being said, this is also a revenge game for Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who spent six seasons in Cincinnati as the Bengals defensive coordinator. Although he'd certainly love to win this game, it's not going to happen because his defense is going to get diced up by Burrow (Note: The pick could change here if Burrow isn't ready to play). 

Prediction: Bengals 27-24
Projected record: 1-0

Week 2 at Bears

Line: Bengals +3.5
Opponent win total: 
O/U 7.5

This is a fascinating matchup and that's because it could turn into an Andy Dalton revenge game. If Dalton earns the starting quarterback job for the Bears out of training camp, he'll almost certainly be the starter when the Bengals get to Chicago. Even if Dalton is the starter, though, the Bengals aren't going to win or lose this game because of him. This game is going to come down to how well the Bengals play against the Bears defense. If the Bengals can pull off an upset at Soldier Field, that would mean knocking off a playoff team from last season, which should give them a lot of confidence going forward. The prediction here is that the upset happens. 

Prediction: Bengals 20-17
Projected record: 2-0

Week 3 at Steelers

Line: Bengals +6
Opponent win total: O/U 9

If there's one city where the Bengals almost never win, it's Pittsburgh. Since the start of the 2010 season, the Bengals have gone 2-9 in the Steel City, and they might have reached rock bottom last year when they lost 36-10 in a game that was easily the ugliest one of Burrow's rookie year. The Steelers might struggle in 2021, but if there's one game they can always count on winning, it's when they play the Bengals at home. 

Prediction: Steelers 23-20
Projected record: 2-1

Week 4 vs. Jaguars (Thursday night)

Line: Bengals -2.5
Opponent win total: O/U 6

This is one of just two games that the Bengals are favored to win this year and there's a good chance it could turn into a classic. This prime-time matchup will feature the No. 1 overall pick from 2020 (Burrow) going toe to toe with the No. 1 overall pick from 2021 (Trevor Lawrence). There's a good chance this game turns into a shootout and if that happens, it just feels like the Bengals have better weapons. 

Prediction: Bengals 30-23
Projected record: 3-1

Week 5 vs. Packers

Line: Bengals +3
Opponent win total: O/U 11

This one is pretty simple, if Aaron Rodgers is still playing for the Packers, then I think the Packers win, but if Rodgers is gone, then I think the Bengals can pull off the upset. For now, Rodgers is still on the roster, so for now, I'm putting a Packers win here. The one big upside for the Bengals going into this game is that they'll get 10 days to prepare. 

Prediction: Packers 31-24
Projected record: 3-2

Week 6 at Lions

Line: Bengals -1
Opponent win total: O/U 5

The Bengals had a bad defense last year, but not even they were as bad as the Lions. During the 2020 season, the Lions gave up the most points in the NFL, the third-most passing yards and the fifth-most rushing yards. Not only are they trying to plug all of those holes, but they're going to be trying to do it with a new coaching staff. There aren't a lot of games on the schedule that the Bengals "should" win, but this is definitely one of them.  

Prediction: Bengals 30-17
Projected record: 4-2

Week 7 at Ravens

Line: Bengals +10
Opponent win total: O/U 11

If there's one thing the Bengals couldn't do last year, it's stop the run. During the 2020 season, the Bengals gave up more rushing yards than almost every other team in the NFL and a big reason for that is because Baltimore ran all over them. In last year's season finale, the Ravens rushed for 404 YARDS against the Bengals, which was the fifth-highest, single-game total in NFL history. The Ravens probably won't hit 400 yards again, but the Bengals haven't proven they can stop Baltimore's offense. 

Prediction: Ravens 30-20
Projected record: 4-3

Week 8 at Jets

Line: Bengals +1
Opponent win total: O/U 6

The Jets offense is going to be built around a rookie quarterback (Zach Wilson) and a rookie running back (Michael Carter) this year and if you can't stop an offense that's led by two rookies, then you might as well just give up on the season. I don't think the Bengals will be giving up on the season here. 

Prediction: Bengals 24-17
Projected record: 5-3

Week 9 vs. Browns

Line: Bengals +4.5
Opponent win total: O/U 10

Yes, the Browns swept this series last year, but it wasn't an easy sweep for Cleveland. The two games were decided by a total of eight points and either game could have been won by the Bengals. When it comes to this rivalry, you can pretty much throw the records out the window and because of that, I think these two teams are going to split their series this year with each team winning at home. 

Prediction: Bengals 26-23
Projected record: 6-3

Week 10 BYE

First-half synopsis: Although a record of 6-3 at the bye might seem a little too optimistic, it's definitely not impossible. The Bengals have three very winnable games against the Jets, Jaguars and Lions. After that, if they can just go 3-3 in the other six games, that puts them at 6-3. Also, the Bengals need to do everything they can to start the season hot because the closing stretch on their schedule is brutal with games against the Ravens, Chiefs and Browns.  

Week 11 at Raiders

Line: Bengals +4.5
Opponent win total: O/U 8

The Raiders had a bad defense last year and it doesn't feel like they did much to improve things this offseason. The Raiders surrendered the third-most points in the NFL in 2020 and I won't be surprised if this is a game where Tyler Boyd, Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins all explode for huge numbers, especially with the Bengals getting an extra week to prepare. 

Prediction: Bengals 34-31
Projected record: 7-3

Week 12 vs. Steelers

Line: Bengals +3
Opponent win total: O/U 9

The Bengals are 1-11 in their past 12 games against the Steelers and a big reason for that is because they can't seem to score on the Steelers defense. In those 12 games, they've averaged just 15.8 point per game. However, the Bengals did put up 27 points against the Steelers in a shocking Monday night upset in 2020 and that was without Burrow. With Burrow under center, the Bengals are going to hit that total again in another upset of the Steelers. 

Prediction: Bengals 27-20 
Projected record: 8-3

Week 13 vs. Chargers

Line: Bengals +2.5
Opponent win total: O/U 9

The Chargers had a lot of the same problems as the Bengals last season with the biggest one being that both teams were plagued with bad offensive line play. Although the Bengals beefed up their offensive line, it feels like the Chargers did more with the additions of guys like center Corey Linsley, right guard Matt Feiler plus first-round pick Rashawn Slater at left tackle. On paper, the Chargers also have a better defense, which is going to make this a tough game for the Bengals to win. Not only am I predicting a loss here, but I'm also predicting the unofficial start of a late-season collapse. 

Prediction: Chargers 31-23
Projected record: 8-4

Week 14 vs. 49ers

Line: Bengals +3.5
Opponent win total: O/U 10

The most notable change on the NFL schedule this year is the fact that the league decided to add a 17th game, and well, this is the game that got added for the Bengals. The last time these two teams played in 2019, Kyle Shanahan coached circles around Zac Taylor, who looked like he had no idea what he was doing in a 41-17 Bengals loss. It won't be surprising if Shanahan does the same thing here. 

Prediction: 49ers 31-20
Projected record: 8-5

Week 15 at Broncos

Line: Bengals +5.5
Opponent win total: O/U 7.5

From Nov. 22 to Jan. 8, this is the ONLY road game that the Bengals will be playing. If you're wondering how that's possible, it's because they only leave home once between Week 12 and Week 17. Even if the Bengals struggle on defense in 2021, the Broncos feel like a team that won't be able to take advantage of that. The Broncos scored the fifth-fewest points in the NFL last season and things likely aren't going to get much better unless they somehow pull off a trade for Aaron Rodgers.   

Prediction: Bengals 24-23
Projected record: 9-5

Week 16 vs. Ravens

Line: Bengals +6.5
Opponent win total: O/U 11

The Ravens have won five straight against the Bengals and a big reason for that is because the Bengals simply haven't figured out how to slow down Baltimore's offense (The Bengals have lost their last five games against Baltimore by an average of 20.8 points and the Ravens are scoring an average of 32.2 points in those games). If they don't figure out how to the stop the Ravens in the first meeting, I have a hard time seeing them getting something figured out by the time this game rolls around. 

Prediction: Ravens 33-27
Projected record: 9-6

Week 17 vs. Chiefs

Line: Bengals +7.5
Opponent win total: O/U 12

The Chiefs are the best team in the AFC and no matter how optimistic you're feeling about the Bengals, they just haven't caught up to Kansas City yet. It really feels like the only way the Bengals will be able to win this game is if the Chiefs are resting their starter because they've already clinched the top seed in the AFC, but I don't think that's going to happen, which means the Bengals defense is going to have its hands full with Kansas City's starters. Patrick Mahomes might throw for 500 yards. 

Prediction: Chiefs 34-24
Projected record: 9-7

Week 18 at Browns

Line: Bengals +6.5
Opponent win total: O/U 10

I've already said it once, but I'll say it again: I think these two teams will split their series this year with each team winning at home, which means the Bengals won't be winning this game. The real silver lining here is that the Bengals will get to play a game on Jan. 9, which will mark just the third time since 1991 that the team has played in a game that late in the season. 

Prediction: Browns 30-23
Projected record: 9-8

Final take: If the Bengals can hit nine wins, they'll definitely have a shot at the playoffs, but it's not going to be easy and that's mainly because they play one of the most difficult schedules in the NFL this year. If the Bengals can get to 9-8, that could put them in contention for a wild card berth and if that happens, they'll have a chance to win their first playoff game since 1990.