This NFL season has been full of interesting storylines, surprises, and unexpected results. But few things top the rise of the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals clinched the AFC North title on Sunday with a come-from-behind win over Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Entering the season, the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns, both Super Bowl 56 hopefuls, were favored in the AFC North. The Bengals, meanwhile, were pegged to land in the cellar, well behind the Ravens, Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Calm, Cool, Collected Cincinnati Clinches as Disappointing Division Rivals Falter
But Cincinnati had a surprising 5-2 start, and despite a 2-4 midseason stretch, remained in the AFC North race. With four weeks left, all four AFC North teams had a chance to claim the division and/or a playoff berth.
As we prepare for the 18th and final week of the regular season, several teams have a nervy week ahead. But the Bengals aren’t among them, having sealed the AFC North with a stunning second-half rally against the Chiefs.
After an overtime loss at home against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 14, the Bengals were 7-6. At that point, their AFC North and postseason hopes were in peril with a difficult final stretch looming. But thanks to three straight wins, the Browns and Ravens collapsing, and the Steelers failing to pose a real threat, the Bengals have their first division title and postseason berth since the 2015 season.
As momentous as Sunday’s thriller in Cincinnati was for the franchise, it also had some major implications for NFL futures markets.
Chase Overtakes Jones as Offensive Rookie of the Year Favorite
For some time, New England Patriots QB Mac Jones and Bengals receiver Ja’Marr Chase have sat atop the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year race. But after going seven games without a 100-yard game, Chase’s hopes had taken a major hit.
In Week 16, Chase recorded seven catches for 125 yards as the Bengals routed the Ravens in Cincinnati. That was his best game since he had eight catches for 201 yards in a Week 7 win in Baltimore.
But both of those performances paled in comparison to his heroics on Sunday against Kansas City. Chase torched the Chiefs for 11 catches, 266 yards, and touchdowns of 72, 18, and 69 yards.
His performance set a franchise record for receiving yards in a game and broke the NFL’s single-game record for most receiving yards in a game by a rookie. It also flipped the Offensive Rookie of the Year odds in Chase’s favor. At BetMGM, Chase is now -225 to win it, with Jones now at +185.
The odds aren’t indicative of who will win, but chances are high that the award will now land in Cincinnati for the third time. Only nine receivers have won it, but two were Bengals. Eddie Brown won it in 1985, while Carl Pickens took the honor in 1992.
Each of the last two seasons, a quarterback has won OROY (Kyler Murray in 2019, Justin Herbert in 2020). But it has been dominated by running backs, who have won 35 times (out of 54, since the award began in 1967). Steelers RB Najee Harris had a season-high 188 yards last night against the Browns, putting himself over 1,000 yards. However, his overall body of work and the Steelers’ mediocrity have him well behind Chase and Jones.
Comeback Player of the Year No Longer a Certainty for Season-Long Favorite Dak
As with Offensive Rookie of the Year, the Comeback Player of the Year race appeared to be a runaway.
But Dak Prescott, the longtime favorite, has had few notable performances over the second half of the season. As a result, the door remained open for Burrow. And with his last two performances and the Bengals achieving the unlikely, Joey B might well clip Dak at the finish line.
Burrow had one of the best performances in recent NFL history against the Ravens in Week 16, completing 37 of 46 passes for a franchise-record 525 yards and four touchdowns to give Cincinnati sole possession of first in the AFC North. It was the fourth-most passing yards in a game in NFL history and only 29 yards short of Norm Van Brocklin’s record, which was set in 1951.
What did he as a follow-up? Not much, just 30 of 39 for 446 yards and four more touchdowns to rally his team from a two-touchdown halftime deficit against the AFC favorites.
Dak remains favored to win CPOY, but the gap has narrowed significantly. As per the latest odds at FanDuel Sportsbook, Dak now sits at just -130, with Burrow now at +105.
Of course, both signal-callers must be lauded for tremendous seasons after suffering season-ending injuries last year. Both have thrown for over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns, and both have clinched division titles. Those achievements are amazing by themselves, award or no award.
However, preseason odds favored the Cowboys in a weak NFC East. The Bengals, meanwhile, looked like a distant fourth in a tougher AFC North. Could that tip the scales in Burrow’s favor?
Coach of the Year a Cincinnati vs. Green Bay Battle?
For all that the odds say, several coaches could be in contention for Coach of the Year honors for the success they have presided over.
Bill Belichick, Frank Reich, and Nick Sirianni have all been a part of big turnarounds this season. If the Colts beat the Jaguars on Sunday, all three will be in the playoffs. Mike Vrabel and the Titans could lock up the #1 seed in the AFC after losing Derrick Henry midseason. Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals have won 11 games and could still win the NFC West. Mike McCarthy and the Cowboys claimed their first NFC East title since 2018.
But with one week remaining, the top two Coach of the Year candidates look to be Packers coach Matt LaFleur and Bengals coach Zac Taylor.
The Packers have locked up the top seed in the NFC for the second straight season and should finish with the league’s best record. So, LaFleur has a pretty compelling argument to win the award.
But while Green Bay was expected to be a contender, the same can’t be said for Cincinnati. In fact, Taylor’s position looked a little tenuous coming into the season. In his first two seasons, the Bengals went 2-14 and 4-11-1. Some level of improvement was needed this season, even if the Bengals didn’t contend in the AFC North.
It is safe to say that Taylor’s job security is not in any doubt at this point. And their impressive turnaround could land him some hardware. Taylor is now +170 (at FanDuel Sportsbook) to win Coach of the Year, just a shade behind favorite LaFleur (+160).
The post NFL Futures Odds: Cincinnati’s Comeback Clincher Against Chiefs Causes Multiple Major Futures Moves first appeared on Betting News.