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Bengals 2016 strength of schedule looks easy, but that's deceiving right now

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Teams like the Ravens and Cowboys simply staying healthy will lead to a big shift between how the SOS looks at the beginning and end of 2016.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

If the 2015 NFL season taught Bengals fans anything, it's that you can never put a lot of stock into the strength of schedule rankings during the offseason.

Entering the 2015 season, the Bengals were projected to have one of the toughest schedules due in large part to the AFC North having a strong record overall in 2014 (Steelers, Ravens and Browns combined to go 28-20, a 58.3 winning percentage.

However, those three teams ended up going 18-30 (37.5 winning percentage) in 2015, which now means the Bengals are projected to have one of the easiest schedules in 2016.

In fact, the combined .477 winning percentage of the Bengals' 2015 opponents meant they were tied for the seventh-easiest schedule by the end of the season. So in other words, it takes just a few teams having surprise years (good or bad) for a schedule to become very challenging or surprisingly easy.

Here's what the current strength of schedule (SOS) looks like for all 32 teams based on the combined winning percentage of their 2016 opponents, via NFL.com.

T-1. Atlanta Falcons (0.555)
T-1. San Francisco 49ers (0.555)
3. Los Angeles Rams (0.551)
4. New Orleans Saints (0.547)
T-5. Seattle Seahawks (0.543)
T-5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0.543)
T-7. Arizona Cardinals (0.531)
T-7. New York Jets (0.531)
9. New England Patriots (0.523)
10. Buffalo Bills (0.520)
11. Miami Dolphins (0.516)
12. Carolina Panthers (0.512)
13. San Diego Chargers (0.508)
14. Denver Broncos (0.504)
15. Oakland Raiders (0.500)
16. Kansas City Chiefs (0.496)
17. Washington Redskins (0.492)
18. Minnesota Vikings (0.488)
T-19. Baltimore Ravens (0.484)
T-19. Houston Texans (0.484)
21. Cleveland Browns (0.480)
22. Indianapolis Colts (0.477)
T-23. Jacksonville Jaguars (0.473)
T-23. Pittsburgh Steelers (0.473)
T-23. Tennessee Titans (0.473)
26. Philadelphia Eagles (0.469)
T-27. Cincinnati Bengals (0.465)
T-27. Detroit Lions (0.465)
T-27. Dallas Cowboys (0.465)
T-30. Chicago Bears (0.461)
T-30. New York Giants (0.461)
32. Green Bay Packers (0.457)

The Bengals are currently projected to be tied for the fourth-easiest schedule entering next season, but I can immediately find several teams that will change how that ranking looks by the end of the 2016 season. The Ravens are not going to go 5-11 again after they lost just about every decent player they had to some form of injury in 2015. Just staying healthy in 2016 will increase their win total by at least 2-3 games, and we probably shouldn't be surprised to see them win nine games while contending for a playoff spot in 2016.

The Steelers should also increase their win total by a game or two if they can just keep Le'Veon Bell, Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey healthy. Not having those three for long stretches of the 2015 season cost them a few wins.

I'll also point to the Giants, who went 6-10 last year but had five games they absolutely gave away and probably will finish 2016 with closer to 10 wins than six. The same goes for the Cowboys, who played most of last year without a starting quarterback, so a healthy Tony Romo will easily increase their win total by 3-5 games. Their fourth overall draft pick should also help.

The Bengals play the entire AFC East this year, who went 36-26 last year. They'll probably come close to that mark with the Patriots winning 11-13 games and the rest of the division picking up another 21 wins (or an average record of 7-9 between the Bills, Jets and Dolphins).

The Broncos may be a bit of a wild card with no clear-cut quarterback right now and a host of offseason departures. I can see them slipping back to around 8-10 wins after going 12-4 last year.

Don't get your hopes up of the Bengals' 2016 schedule being as easy as it appears now, but at the same time, there's no one on this year's schedule that the Bengals aren't capable of beating.

The Bengals' 2016 schedule will be announced Thursday at 8 p.m. EDT; you can find their 2016 opponents here.