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4 early storylines to follow regarding Bengals' 2016 schedule

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You could certainly ask for a little more balance in the early and middle parts, but the final two months are about as good as the Bengals could have asked for.

The Cincinnati Bengalsregular-season schedule has been set for 2016.

As you can imagine, the 16-game slate is filled with compelling storylines, so we've gone through and came up with the four best ones...for now. With the season still more than four months away, there can still be some big developments in how the 2016 schedule is viewed, but for now, here's a look at the four biggest storylines for the 2016 regular season.

1. Challenging Start

Right out of the gate, the Bengals get two road games against the Jets and Steelers. Those two combined to go 20-12 last year and finished tied for the final Wild Card spot, which went to Pittsburgh via tiebreakers. The Jets threw away their postseason shot by losing to the Buffalo Bills in Week 17, so they've had this whole offseason to let that bad taste sit in their mouth.

While one game won't atone for that, beating the Bengals at home would go a long way toward getting them to the playoffs next season.

Following that up with a trip to Pittsburgh will be one of the toughest games this year. It's not crazy to think the Bengals open the year with an 0-2 mark, and things don't get much easier in Week 3 when the defending Super Bowl champs come to town.

Fresh off their Super Bowl 50 win, the Denver Broncos return a lot of the group that won it all last season, but lost enough that the Bengals should be able to win this game. You know it's a rough start when you can say the defending Super Bowl champs don't even know who their quarterback will be in 2016. That, too, should help the Bengals snatch a Week 3 win.

2. No Tez for Tough Stretch

The Bengals will be without one of their best players to open the 2016 season as Vontaze Burfict serves a three-game suspension. That makes an already tough stretch of games even more challenging, especially with one being against the high-powered Steelers offense.

Ideally, the Bengals would have gotten an easier game or two to open the year while one of their best players was out. Instead, they got hit with arguably the hardest three-game stretch they'll face next season. The NFL will never be accused of doing the Bengals any favors and Burfict missing the first matchup with the Steelers isn't leaving Bengals fans smiling.

3. Constant Road Swing

The Bengals won't have any semblance of a home stretch this season. Thanks in part to the team giving away a home game to play in London, there will be only one instance next season in which the Bengals play back-to-back home games, and there will be no three-game home stretches like teams sometimes get.

And if you count the Week 8 game in London, the BYE week and the MNF game at New York in Week 10, that's a three-week stretch of no games at Paul Brown Stadium. Add in the road games at Dallas (Week 5) and at New England (Week 6) with a home game vs Cleveland (Week 7), that's a stretch of six weeks with only one game being played in PBS.

That's unheard of. The good news is, the Bengals have won 10 of their past 12 road games dating back to the middle of the 2014 season. These guys know how to win away from home, and they'll have to do a lot of it the first 2.5 months with only three games in Cincinnati during the first 10 weeks.

4. Ending with Ravens Amid Big AFC North Stretch

The Bengals will once again end their season with the Ravens in an AFC North clash between two teams typically in playoff contention. The two have combined for 11 playoff berths since the 2009 season, and over that span, have faced each other five times in the regular-season finale.

Baltimore took the first two contests before Cincinnati reeled off three straight season finale wins, which is part of a five-game winning streak in the series for the Bengals. This series has been hard fought with most of the matchups being fourth-quarter thrillers, but hopefully the Bengals keep taking care of business this year (and in 2017 as this game will be played on January 1, 2017).

The season finale will also be the fourth time Cincinnati faces an AFC North team in the final six games. At Baltimore kicks off the action in Week 12. The Bengals then head to Cleveland in Week 14 before hosting Pittsburgh in Week 15.

This could be very beneficial for the Bengals since the Browns and Ravens combined to go 8-24 last year. Throw in home games against the Steelers and Eagles with the Texans in Houston, and you've got a very manageable stretch of games.

Given what he Bengals' schedule looks like as a whole, you could certainly ask for a little more balance in the early and middle parts, but the final two months are about as good as you could have asked for.

What are your biggest takeaways from the schedule as it stands?