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ESPN makes case for Bengals to win Super Bowl 51

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What would a path to the Super Bowl look like for the Bengals? What past champion would they compare to most? ESPN projects just that.

Wild Card Playoffs - Cincinnati Bengals v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Bengals are once again talented and deep enough to not only have a winning season, but reach the playoffs for a sixth straight season.

While the offense suffered some notable losses this offseason, they return the core of a unit that was ripping through the NFL when everyone was healthy. Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Giovani Bernard, and Jeremy Hill return to wreak havoc behind an offensive line that’s among the NFL's best.

On defense, Geno Atkins and Vontaze Burfict figured to be back at their superstar level while leading a top-10 defense. All of this could pave the way for a deep postseason run, possibly even to the Super Bowl.

But as this case with every NFL team, a lot of things have to go the Bengals' way for them to be crowned champions at season's end. That’s exactly what ESPN’s Bill Barnwell projected for all 32 NFL teams.

For the Bengals, Barnwell compared what a path to the Super Bowl would look like to that of the Indianapolis Colts in 2006.

Probability of Super Bowl win: 4.2 percent

The path: From here on out, the path for each of these teams should be pretty obvious: They're each capable of looking like the best team in football if things break right. It was awful close for the Bengals last year. Even after losing Andy Dalton in the middle of a career year, they came within an overtime loss against the Broncos in Week 16 of finishing with the top seed in the AFC.

Instead, they finished as the third seed and lost controversially to Pittsburgh in the wild-card round, bringing Marvin Lewis' playoff record as a head coach to 0-7. If Dalton returns and plays at the same impressive level from 2015, the Bengals should be among the best teams in the AFC again.

The comparable champion: 2006 Colts. The book on Indy with Peyton Manning, of course, was that it would dominate in the regular season before losing when it really mattered, often to the Patriots. Then 2006 rolled around and the Colts smacked perception in the face and showed it reality.

After starting his playoff career 3-6, Peyton won four consecutive games to claim his first Super Bowl. If somebody tells you that they know a player or coach can't win in the postseason, ignore them.

Those Colts certainly had their playoff struggles before breaking through to win it all in 2006. Perhaps the Bengals will have a similar breakthrough 10 years later if they can just get back to the postseason.

After all, we have yet to see a Bengals playoff game with Dalton, Green, Atkins, Bernard, Hill, Eifert, and Burfict all on the field. If that can somehow happen this year, expect a playoff win to follow.