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From Worst To First: What NFL Team Could Be This Year's Cincinnati Bengals?

Podcast Exercise Show Notes:

Today, we examine NFL teams that finished last in their respective divisions in 2021 to ID what team has the best chance to go from worst to first, similar to the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals. We examine data from the Bengal's 2020 and 2021 NFL seasons as a way to compare and contrast every last-place team in each division from the 2021 NFL season.


Bengals Super Bowl odds before the 2021 season

The 2021 Cincinnati Bengals achieved success beyond what many expected, playing in one of if not the toughest divisions in the NFL. After finishing the 2020 season in last place in the AFC North with a 4-11-1 record, the Bengals entered the 2021 NFL season with +15000 odds to win the Super Bowl.


Cited reasons to be pessimistic about the Bengals Odds in 2021

For starters, the Bengals entered 2021 with a myriad of question marks. Their head coach Zac Taylor had amassed a 6-25-1 record; he was on the proverbial hot seat. Joe Burrow was coming off of an ACL tear that many believed might limit his return. In addition, the Bengals had question marks along their OL entering the 2021 NFL season that many thought could hinder Joe Burrow's ability to be effective from the pocket.


Cited reasons to be optimistic about the Bengals Odds in 2021

In 2021, with a healthy Joe Burrow and the addition of JaMaar Chase, the Bengals entered the season with a solid core of established offensive weapons; even after moving on from veteran WR A.J. Green, the Bengals returned WR’s Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.


The backfield would also be in good hands with Joe Mixon, a player with a three-down skill set. The loss of Gio Bernard caused some chatter but was not a significant concern.


Questions remained regarding the OL as they chose to utilize free agency to fill their need at OT by signing 32-year-old Riley Reiff after passing on OT Penei Sewell in the 2021 NFL Draft and choosing JaMaar Chase.


2020 Bengals by the numbers

Bengals Offense

In 2020, The Bengals possessed the 5th worst points differential, ranking 24th in total rush yards and 27th in total pass yards (3448). The Bengals boasted the league's 9th worst turnover rate (13%). They also ranked 30th overall in yds per play on offense at 4.9.


The offense was not great at moving the chains, ranking 30th in 3rd down conversion rate and 30th in red-zone conversion rate (50%) with only 24 total TD’s, which also ranked 30th in the NFL. The Bengals scored 1.7 points per drive (30th) in terms of pure total drive efficiency. By comparison, the top NFL teams in 2020 in this category were the Packers (3.1 PPD), Titans (2.9 PPD), and the Bills (2.8 PPD).


Bengals Defense

On the defensive side of the football, the Bengals ranked in the middle of the league in total pass defense (3859), but they surrendered the NFL's 7th worst pass TD allowed total. Their run defense total yards allowed was the 4th worst league-wide (2368) in a division where teams like the Ravens and the Browns will try to steamroll you via the run game so that did not bode well.


They also surrendered the NFL's 2nd highest rush yds per attempt total (5.1). The Bengals did a decent job of getting off the field on third downs, they ranked 13th in 3rd down conversions allowed (43%), but when an opponent reached the red zone, they gave up the 9th highest red zone scoring rate, which ended in a TD allowed at the 7th highest rate. In terms of drive efficiency defense, the Bengals surrendered the 13th highest points per drive (2.3) by comparison; the top teams were the Rams (1.5 PPD), Steelers (1.62 PPD), and the WFT (1.7 PPD).


The Bengals were also lacking in the creation of turnovers ranking 25th, creating a turnover at a 9.4% rate. The lack of 3rd down stops combined with being opportunistic in the turnover department played a huge role.


Stats Nomenclature: PPD= Points per drive, RZ= RedZone

2020 Bengals, by comparison to the 2021 team

Points Differential: -113 (5th worst) +84 in 2021 +197 swing into the positive

Total Pass Yds Off: 3448 (27th) 4403 in 2021 +955

Total Rush Yds Off: 1668 (24th) 1742 in 2021 +64

Turnover Rte: 12.8% (24th) 10% in 2021 -2.8%

3rd Down Off: 36% (30th) 40% in 2021 +4%

3rd Down Def: 43% (20th) 41% in 2021 -2%

RZ Off Score Rte: 50% (30th) 24 TD’s (30th) 60% in 2021 +10%

RZ Def Score Rte: 64% (24th) 37 RZ TD’s (25th) 60% in 2021 -4%

PPD Off Eff: 1.70 (29th) 2.4 in 2021 +.7

PPD Def Eff: 2.30 (20th) 1.88 in 2021 + .42


Other Notable Worst To First NFL Teams SInce 1999

Below are the 2021 numbers from each last place NFL team by division. 2003 Carolina Panthers, 2009 New Orleans Saints, and 2017 Philadelphia Eagles made the Super Bowl one year removed from finishing last in their respective divisions.


2021 Last Place Teams By The Numbers

AFC East Jets 4-13

2022 Super Bowl Odds: +12600

Points Differential: -194

Total Pass Yds: 3541 (20th) 20/20 TD/INT Ratio

Total Rush Yds: 1667 (27th) They did avg. 4.4 yds per att (14th)

Turnover Rate: 14% (27th)

3rd Down Off: 36% (27th)

3rd Down Def: 44% (27th)

RZ Off Score Rte: 55% (21st)

RZ Def Score Rte: 60% (20th)

PPD Off Eff: 1.61 (27th)

PPD Def Eff: 2.67 (32nd)


AFC West Broncos 7-10

2022 Super Bowl Odds: +1640

Points Differential: +13

Total Pass Yds: 3593 (19th)

Total Rush Yds: 2025 (13th)

Turnover Rte: 9.5% (9th)

3rd Down Off: 38.5% (21st)

3rd Down Def: 45% (28th) Denver's defense ranked 6th worst in time of possession defense.

RZ Off Score Rte: 55% (22nd) 29 TD’s (22nd)

RZ Def Score Rte: 49% (3rd)

PPD Off Eff: 1.96 (19th)

PPD Def Eff: 1.72 (5th)


AFC North Ravens 8-9

2022 Super Bowl Odds: +2080

Points Differential: -5

Total Pass Yds: 3961 (13TH)

Total Rush Yds: 2479 (3RD)

Turnover RTE Off: 13.3% (24th)

3rd Down Off: 36% (23rd)

3rd Down Def: 35% (3rd)

RZ Off Score Rte: 62% (12th)

RZ Def Score Rte: 54% (12th)

PPD Off Eff: 1.97 (18th)

PPD Def Eff: 1.95 (12th)


AFC South Jaguars 3-14

2022 Super Bowl Odds: +11300

Points Differential: -204 (Worst)

Total Pass Yds: 3436 (22nd)

Total Rush Yds: 1755 (22nd)

Turnover Rte Off: 16% (31st)

3rd Down Off: 36% (28th)

3rd Down Def: 43% (25th) Improving pass rush can improve this.

RZ Off Score Rte: 51% (28th) 20 TD’s (30th)

RZ Def Score Rte: 62% (23rd) 38 TD’s (26th) Trade more TD’s for FG’s.

PPD Off Eff: 1.38 (31st)

PPD Def Eff: 2.43 (28th) Jags led the NFL in defensive time of possession in 2021.


NFC East Giants 4-13

2022 Super Bowl Odds: +10700

Points Differential: -158

Total Pass Yds: 3196 (31st) 15/20 TD/INT Ratio You would expect this will change with Daboll

Total Rush Yds: 1688 (24th) 8 TD’s tied for worst in the NFL. Barkley returning to form will change this.

Turnover RTE: 16% (worst)

3rd Down Off: 37% (24th)

3rd Down Def: 40% (16th) Build on this

RZ Off Score Rte: 44% (worst)

RZ Def Score Rte: 52% (9th) Build on this

PPD Off Eff: 1.31 (worst)

PPD Def Eff: 2.15 (23rd)


NFC West Seahawks 7-10

2022 Super Bowl Odds: +11800

Points Differential: +29

Total Pass Yds: 3432 (23rd)

Total Rush Yds: 2074 (11th)

Turnover Rte: 7% (3rd)

3rd Down Off: 37% (23rd) Leagues lowest Off time of possession. Left the Def on the field a league-high 1234 plays in 2021.

3rd Down Def: 39% (14th)

RZ Off Score Rte: 65% (3rd) 31 TD’s (17th)

RZ Def Score Rte: 51% (9th) 31 TD’s (14th) Bend but don’t break on a per play basis. Still need to work on trading TD’s for FG’s.

PPD Off Eff: 2.07 (16th)

PPD Def Eff: 1.91 (10th) SEA def was on the field 3:10 on avg, which is the third-highest rate in 2021.


NFC North Lions 3-13-1

2022 Super Bowl Odds: +13000

Points Differential: -142

Total Pass Yds: 3598 (18th)

Total Rush Yds: 1886 (19th)

Turnover Rte: 13% (22nd)

3rd Down Off: 34% (Worst)

3rd Down Def: 45% (29th)

RZ Off Score Rte: 47% (31st) 21 TD’s (29th) Finish drives with TD’s

RZ Def Score Rte: 70% (31st) 42 TD’s (28th)

PPD Off Eff: 1.81 (22nd)

PPD Def Eff: 2.54 (31st)

NFC South Panthers 5-12 (Add Baker Mayfield)

2022 Super Bowl Odds: +11100

Points Differential: -100

Total Pass Yds: 3239 (29th) 14/21 TD/INT Ratio Jimmy G or Baker can change the pass efficiency, TD/INT ratio.

Total Rush Yds: 1842 (20th) CMC healthy elevates the offense

Turnover Rte: 15% (29th)

3rd Down Off: 35% (29th) Lack of early-down success, another area that can improve with better QB play.

3rd Down Def: 38% (9th) Build on this

RZ Off Score Rte: 53% (25th) 25 TD’s (27th)

RZ Def Score Rte: 67% (30th) 35 TD’s (23rd)

PPD Off Eff: 1.51 (29th) Improving 3rd down eff can lead to a leap in this category.

PPD Def Eff: 1.98 (15th) Build on this


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