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Bengals 2016 Schedule: Immediate analysis and predictions following schedule release

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With the NFL's release of the 2016 schedule on Thursday night, we thought it best to analyze it and make some very early predictions. Upon looking at the schedule, does it look like the Bengals will make the playoffs again in 2016?

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL sure knows how to engage its fan base, doesn't it? The league kicks a new league year off with the frenzy known as free agency, and just when the interest in that exercise of roster-building fades, the next year's schedule gets released, which is then followed by the NFL Draft. For a league that isn't providing any actual games for fans, they sure create huge buzz in their "offseason".

Well, the next step in the new league year occurred Thursday night in the release of the 2016 NFL schedule. We already knew which teams the Bengals were going to face and at which venues, but we didn't know the time of year the contests would be played, nor if they would be slated for primetime.

Though deemed as one of the easiest schedules for teams next year, Cincinnati's is a doozy. We preview each of their 16 regular season games and make predictions on the outcome. Keep in mind that the draft, additional late free agency moves and potential injuries have yet to occur for all 32 teams, so this is a premature look at things, sure to evolve during the offseason.

Week 1 Cincinnati Bengals at New York Jets, Sunday 1 P.M., MetLife Stadium: The Bengals kick off the 2016 season with a tough matchup on the road against a Jets team who is 17-8 historically against Cincinnati. As of now, it's unclear who New York's starting quarterback will be, as Ryan Fitzpatrick, who led the Jets to a 10-win season last year, has yet to be re-signed. That leaves Geno Smith and Bryce Petty on the roster, so for now, we'll exclude Fitzpatrick from the equation. In doing so, it seems the Bengals will be the likely winners, even with a stout New York defense and good weapons at the offensive skill positions. Bengals 27, Jets 18

Week 2 Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday 1 P.M., Heinz Field: You knew the schedule-makers would do something here and they have erred on the side of caution. After the playoff bloodbath that bred more ill will between the franchises and their fan bases. You had to know that the league had its eye on Vontaze Burfict's return from suspension, making this game less suspenseful with Burfict still serving his time when they play. The Bengals have actually fared much better in Pittsburgh than when they host the Steelers at PBS. I think the Bengals take the loss here in a close one. Steelers 21, Bengals 17

Week 3 Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday 1 P.M., Paul Brown Stadium: After heading to the Super Bowl in two of the past three seasons and winning Super Bowl 50, the Broncos are in total rebuild mode in 2016. While much of their tough defense is still intact, they lost both starting quarterbacks from 2015 (Brock Osweiler, Peyton Manning), as well as linebacker Danny Trevathan and defensive lineman Malik Jackson. Unless the Broncos strike gold with Mark Sanchez or someone else, this looks like a game the Bengals should easily handle. Bengals 24, Broncos 16

Week 4 Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati Bengals, Thursday 8:25 P.M., Paul Brown Stadium: Deja vu, anyone? While the Bengals have had a great amount of regular season success over the past half-decade, one constant thorn in their side has been the Dolphins. Whether we're talking about the 2013 Halloween nightmare (also a Thursday nighter) where Geno Atkins tore a knee ligament in an overtime loss or a zombie-like performance the year before at home against the South Floridians, the Bengals haven't beat Miami since 2007 and have lost the last three head-to-head contests. I think it changes here because of the Dolphins' losses of Lamar MillerBrent Grimes and Olivier VernonBengals 23, Dolphins 16

Week 5 Cincinnati Bengals at Dallas Cowboys, Sunday 4:25 P.M., AT&T Stadium: Jerry Jones' Cowboys have struggled of late, mostly coinciding with a series of major injuries to quarterback Tony Romo. The veteran is set to start for Dallas this year, and if he does when these teams face off, it could be a problem for Cincinnati. Their big offseason acquisition was Alfred Morris, who has been a very productive and underrated back in the NFL, and the hope is that he'll take pressure off of Romo and balance out the offense. The Cowboys' stout offensive line could hold up against the Bengals' tenacious defensive front, so I'm not really sure where to go here. Cowboys 34, Bengals 31

Week 6 Cincinnati Bengals at New England Patriots, Sunday 1 P.M., Gillette Stadium: Much like Peyton Manning in his tenure with the Colts and Broncos, Tom Brady and the Patriots have largely dominated the Bengals. The last time the two faced off was on Sunday Night Football in 2014 when Cincinnati ran into a buzzsaw because of a Patriots team who had been trashed in the media leading up to the game. Lewis is 1-5 against Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots in his head coaching tenure, and his teams have never scored more than 17 points against New England. Patriots 31, Bengals 17

Week 7 Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday 1 P.M., Paul Brown Stadium: The Browns take their annual trip to Cincinnati and though this could be a game where the Bengals hit cruise control, we'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say they take care of the business they should. Bengals 41, Browns 16

Week 8 Washington Redskins at Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday 9:30 A.M., Wembley Stadium (London): Cincinnati gets to "host" the Redskins across the pond in merry ol' England, pitting Lewis up against his former offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden. Jon's younger brother is making a name for himself with developing young quarterbacks, first with Dalton and now with Kirk Cousins, who had a breakout year for Washington in 2015. Washington won the weak NFC North last year, but hasn't lost a ton of pieces going into 2016, while stocking up on defense in free agency. This one will come down to which quarterback makes less mistakes and which team doesn't sleepwalk with the time difference. I see the Bengals winning a relative snoozer and celebrating with some Newcastle and fish 'n' chips. Side note: this game sucks if you live on the West Coast of the U.S. Bengals 26, Redskins 20

Week 9 - BYE

Week 10 Cincinnati Bengals at New York Giants, Monday 8:25 P.M., MetLife Stadium: The Giants are pesky, no matter how low on talent they seem, especially late in the year. While the most explosive individual matchup of the game could be with Odell Beckham, Jr. against Adam Jones (remember OBJ's brawl with Josh Norman last year?), the more talented team on paper appears to be Cincinnati. Bengals 34, Giants 28

Week 11 Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday 1 P.M., Paul Brown Stadium: There are a handful of teams, who when they show up on the Bengals schedule, fans have to groan. The Dolphins are one, as are the Texans, but the Bills have to be lumped in there too. One of the major reasons for the frustrations resides in the Bengals often playing down to lesser-talented Buffalo teams and losing. Tyrod Taylor will have to prove he's the real deal in 2016, after making the Pro Bowl as an alternate last year. Cincinnati beat the Bills last year on Buffalo's home turf, and though this one could be a sneaky game, I still think Cincinnati pulls it out. Cincinnati 31, Bills 23

Week 12 Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens, Sunday 1 P.M., M&T Bank Stadium: The first three years of the Andy Dalton era were marked with failures against the AFC North big boys in the Ravens and Steelers. The last three years have been a stark contrast, with Dalton going 5-1 against Baltimore since 2013 (the only loss was in overtime in Baltimore), adding to Marvin Lewis' dominance as Bengals head coach of his former employer. The Ravens will be tougher this year as they will be healthier, but they are in rebuild mode, needing to supplement Joe Flacco with more weapons. Though I think the Bengals dominate this series again in 2016, we know to expect absolutely crazy finishes to these two annual games. Bengals 27, Ravens 20

Week 13 Philadelphia Eagles at Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday 1 P.M., Paul Brown Stadium: The Eagles are in shambles, after Chip Kelly shed much of their big-time talent and was fired after a disappointing third season as their head coach at the end of 2015. Sam Bradford is their starting quarterback, but DeMarco Murray is gone and so are Kelly pick-ups in Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell. Barring an unforeseen stellar day by Bradford, this should be a win for Cincinnati. Bengals 24, Eagles 13

Week 14 Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns, Sunday 1 P.M., FirstEnergy Stadium: Stay with me here: The Bengals faced Robert Griffin III just once in his four previous seasons, and it was one of Griffin's better games as a pro. The Bengals eked out a win against the then-lowly Redskins by a 38-31 score, with Griffin throwing for 221 yards and a touchdown, while adding 74 rushing yards and another rushing touchdown. Hue Jackson's offense should be conducive to RG3's bouncing back as a pro quarterback, should he prove able. Jackson also knows all of Lewis' tendencies, so a major chess match could ensue. That being said, Cincinnati could once again blow the doors off of Cleveland two more times this year as they have frequently done since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, but something just isn't sitting right on the outlook of this matchup in 2016. Bengals 30, Browns 28

Week 15 Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday 8:30 P.M., Paul Brown Stadium: It's an all-important rematch at the end of the season, which could very well determine the AFC North crown once again. The Bengals get to host the Steelers for the first time since the heartbreaking loss to Pittsburgh back in January, and though the Bengals haven't fared well at home against the heated rival, they're long overdue for a big home win. I think they squeak one out for a very important win and Burfict's first game against the Steelers since the playoff loss. Bengals 23, Steelers 20

Week 16 Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans, Saturday 7:25 P.M., NRG Stadium: The city of Houston brings up painful memories for the Bengals in recent history, marked with two consecutive Wild Card losses to the Texans in 2011 and 2012. Houston has rebuilt itself with a new quarterback in Brock Osweiler and the former Dolphin Lamar Miller, making them a bit more dangerous than the 9-win team who lost in the first round of the playoffs in 2015. In the Dalton era, Cincinnati is just 1-4 against the Texans, including the playoffs. Though they might have trouble with the Colts with Andrew Luck's return in 2016, Houston could be a team on the rise if Osweiler pans out. I see this as another loss in a line of unwatchable Bengals performances against the Texans in recent years, taking some of the joy out of this Christmas Eve. Texans 26, Bengals 16

Week 17 Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday 1 P.M., Paul Brown Stadium: To finish out the season, the Bengals will face the Ravens in a critical divisional showdown. Normally, I'd say the Bengals sweep the Ravens this year, but the Bengals could struggle against a team that knows how to win, no matter how down of a year they may have. Ravens 21, Bengals 20

Overall Record Projection: 11-5

Conclusion: This is another tough season to predict for the Bengals, especially with losing many major contributors on both sides of the ball in free agency. You could see the team struggling to get to 9 wins, especially if they somehow draft poorly and/or injuries strike, but with the easy NFC West, the Browns still re-building their franchise and the Ravens coming off one of their worst-ever seasons, the 10-11 win range seems about right for a Bengals team that has most of its core players locked up long-term.