CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is out for the season with a torn ligament in his throwing wrist, the team announced Friday. The news is a shock to an organization that entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations after consecutive trips to the AFC Championship Game following the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
This is not the first time this year the Bengals have had to navigate a Burrow injury. Two days into training camp, Burrow suffered a right calf strain that kept him out of action for the preseason. He started the season opener — a 24-3 loss at the Cleveland Browns — and struggled early before finding his best form the past few weeks and putting the Bengals back on a playoff track.
Friday’s news, however, puts a serious dent in the Bengals’ postseason hopes and all but ends their title aspirations.
According to ESPN BET, the Bengals were +375 to win the AFC North prior to Thursday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens, in which Burrow exited because of the injury in the second quarter. They were 25-1 Friday morning and jumped to 75-1 after the Bengals announced Burrow would miss the remainder of the season. Their Super Bowl odds fell from 12-1 to 22-1 to 150-1 in that same span.
But while Cincinnati’s immediate future might appear grim, the Bengals aren’t out of the playoff picture just yet. Here are three reasons why they will — and won’t — reach the postseason.
THE CASE FOR …
Cincinnati has a strong receiving trio
Backup quarterback Jake Browning steps into a situation that should help him succeed. The Bengals have built one of the better receiving units in the NFL.
Ja’Marr Chase has reached the Pro Bowl in his first two seasons and commands double-teams weekly. Tee Higgins accumulated more than 3,000 receiving yards in his first three seasons and showed good form before missing the past two games with a hamstring injury. Tyler Boyd has been one of the NFL’s most dependable slot receivers. Throw in Trenton Irwin, who has proved to be a capable No. 4 receiver when pressed into action, and Browning will have no shortage of options.
“I’ve been doing scout teams for a while,” Browning said after Thursday’s game. “You are running the worst play against the worst look, so it was nice to go run some plays and I have all these people open.”
Tanner Hudson has also burst onto the scene in recent weeks. In five games, he has 18 catches for 175 yards, numbers that show why he was moved from the practice squad to the active roster on Nov. 1.
Browning isn’t short on confidence
Even in a daunting situation — facing the NFL’s No. 2 defense in a divisional showdown Thursday night, Browning wasn’t fazed. After all, this is someone who set California prep records for passing yards (16,775) and touchdowns (229) and then broke records in those same categories at the University of Washington (12,296 yards, 94 TDs).
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in myself,” Browning said after the loss to the Ravens. “I think I’m borderline delusional when it comes to optimism — like, ‘Hey, I’m going to go win the game.'”
That bravado is something Bengals coaches and teammates admire, including Burrow. Burrow said Browning’s even-keeled demeanor is one of the reasons they’re such good friends. And Boyd said if his quarterback feels good, it instills belief in those around him.
“As long as that quarterback is confident, he’s sitting back there and he’s ready to make magic and do everything he got to do to help us win and lead us, I’m always going to follow behind him and do what I can to help him,” Boyd said.
Just gotta believe!
After the Ravens game, Boyd noted that other backup quarterbacks have succeeded in recent years. Examples include the San Francisco 49ers’ Brock Purdy and the Minnesota Vikings’ Joshua Dobbs, who is on his third team this season and recently played a key role in the Vikings’ win over the New Orleans Saints in Week 10.
Burrow has meant everything to the franchise since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2020. But in the aftermath of his injury, the Bengals are proclaiming a belief that they can still be a playoff contender.
“We’ve got a lot of talent on this roster and this season is far from over,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said Friday. “I’m excited to see how the guys respond next week.”
THE CASE AGAINST …
The team has struggled without Burrow
The numbers are not in Cincinnati’s favor when Burrow hasn’t been on the field. Since 2020, the Bengals are 2-5 when Burrow hasn’t started. When previous Burrow backups Ryan Finley and Brandon Allen took over, Cincinnati averaged 1.33 points per drive and had a touchdown rate of 14.7%, according to ESPN Stats & Information. When Burrow is starting, those numbers jumped to 2.15 points per drive and touchdowns on 24.5% of drives.
The offense will operate with Browning as it did under Burrow, Taylor said. Cincinnati has to bank on Browning’s experience with the coaches and players that dates back to 2021 translating into yards and points.
“I’ve been preparing like I’m going to be the guy for 2½ years here now in the same offense,” Browning said Friday.
The defense has taken a step backward
Even if Burrow were healthy, the defense poses a massive threat to Cincinnati’s postseason hopes. Burrow’s $275 million contract extension and a looming extension for Chase means there hasn’t been as much spending on the defense, which has resulted in young players in important roles.
While players such as cornerback DJ Turner and safety Dax Hill have shown glimpses, the unit has been porous as a whole. Cincinnati has allowed the second-most yards per play (6.1) and is 23rd in points allowed per drive.
Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s unit has been a primary reason for Cincinnati’s postseason success over the past two seasons. But the current iteration of the defense is too reliant on turnovers to get stops.
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The schedule is still one of the toughest in the NFL
Cincinnati has faced the NFL’s toughest schedule to date and the slate doesn’t get much easier. According to ESPN Analytics, as of Friday, the Bengals have the eighth-toughest remaining schedule. And the numbers shifted heavily against Cincinnati after Burrow’s injury.
Cincinnati is projected to be the underdog in six of its final seven games, according to ESPN Analytics. The exception is a Week 14 home game against the Indianapolis Colts. The Bengals still have to play the Jacksonville Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs on the road and have three remaining AFC North games, including two against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even if Burrow had finished the Ravens’ loss healthy, Cincinnati was going to be outside looking in on the playoff picture.
Having already played Thursday, the Bengals will try to take advantage of the extra rest as they prepare for a home game against the Steelers on Nov. 26. “Obviously, this longer weekend comes at a good time for us,” Taylor said Friday. “It’s a chance to regroup and get healthy and come back next week ready to attack Pittsburgh.”