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Nothing changes the fortunes of an NFL franchise quite like a new quarterback. And there's no better way to find a franchise QB than with the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Since the merger in 1970, nearly half of all top selections have been quarterbacks, including 16 in the last 23 years. In 2019, the Cardinals drafted Kyler Murray at No. 1 after spending a first-round pick on Josh Rosen a year earlier. It's that important to get it right.
But how quickly do those teams see dividends on their selections, and can bettors bank on a significant turnaround right away? We tracked 50 years of data to examine how teams fared a year after spending the top pick on a quarterback - and if it's worth buying low on Joe Burrow and the Bengals.
Of the 22 non-expansion teams to take a quarterback at No. 1, four saw their records stagnate or even decline the following year. The remaining 18 teams improved, winning an average of 5.5 games the following season - more than doubling their average win total (2.6) from the previous campaign.
Of that group, the 15 teams that started their quarterback from Week 1 - as Burrow likely will - saw an increase of 2.9 wins. QBs who started at least half the season helped their team improve by 3.2 wins on average.
What about the worst of the worst? Of the 22 teams, 14 won two or fewer games the year before, and 11 of those squads started their rookie QB for at least five contests. Those squads saw their records improve by an average of 4.5 wins, including massive jumps by the 2012 Colts (2-14 to 11-5) and 2018 Browns (0-16 to 7-8-1).
Improvement is encouraging, but for bettors, it's all relative to expectation. The data is positive there, too. Teams that draft a QB with the top pick are 7-7-5 to their win total since 1989, including 4-2-1 in the last 10 years, though teams that won two or fewer games the previous year went 5-3-2 to the over and 4-0-1 since 2010.
So what does that say about the Bengals? First, consider the success of those past quarterbacks as a backdrop for Burrow, one of the most accomplished quarterback prospects we've seen.
The former LSU star set nearly every collegiate record imaginable, was one of the highest-graded players in PFF history, and entered the draft with more hype than any quarterback since Andrew Luck - who led the Colts' nine-win improvement in 2012.
Luck's success was historic but also representative of a recent trend for rookie signal-callers. The last five teams to roll out a top pick at quarterback after winning as few games as the Bengals did in 2019 averaged a whopping 7.4 wins the following year. Eight of the 14 teams since 1970 in that spot won at least six games with their new QB.
Still, the betting market is skeptical of Cincinnati, which has a win total of 5.5 and is +750 to make the playoffs at theScore Bet. The Bengals are favored just once all season, which means even matching last year's mark of two wins could be profitable for weekly bettors. With Burrow at the helm, they should do better.
Look no further than last year's Cardinals, the only team that wasn't favored in a single game entering the year. Arizona finished with five outright wins and a 10-6 record against the spread, tied for fourth-best in the NFL, as Murray lived up to his billing as the top overall pick.
If Burrow can do the same, the Bengals should have no problem following the path of those before them and rewarding bettors who buy low on 2019's worst team.
C Jackson Cowart is a betting writer for theScore. He's an award-winning journalist with stops at The Charlotte Observer, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Times Herald-Record, and BetChicago. He's also a proud graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, and his love of sweet tea is rivaled only by that of a juicy prop bet. Find him on Twitter @CJacksonCowart.