Some say that the Bengals didn't beat a team worthy of significance this past season, and the numbers will back that up. The team went undefeated against the non-playoff teams, and winless in seven tries against playoff competition. The 2011 season brought the Bengals the 27th toughest schedule in the league, supporting the criticism of the team that many critics shared. The strength of schedule for the 2012 season is set to be the 14th toughest schedule, which would put the Bengals in the top half off the league's toughest schedules.
Cincinnati will play the AFC West and the NFC East this upcoming season, along with Miami, Jacksonville, and the AFC North. A typical Bengals fan might get nervous upon seeing that the team will travel to San Diego and Kansas City. The Bengals have five wins and ten losses in their 15 trips to San Diego. They have also been to Kansas City 14 times, winning six and losing eight. The Bengals obstacles on the west coast have been well documented, and they will certainly need to straighten those out this coming season.
Things can always change, but Cincinnati seems to have a difficult challenge on hand for 2012. The NFC East had a down year in 2011, but they may very well possess the Super Bowl champion from this season. The Eagles were one of the hottest teams in the league at the end of the year, the Cowboys can play with anyone in the league when they are going right, and the Redskins have a tough defense.
The Bengals will likely need to pick up some key free agents this March and have a solid draft in order to improve on last season. One thing to remember is that many "experts" expected the Bengals to be getting ready to take Andrew Luck at this point before the season started. No matter how tough next seasons schedule may seem, or how well or poorly free agency goes, counting this team out would appear to be unwise.