The 2017 NFL season can’t get here soon enough.
For now, we’re left with a projection from Football Outsiders (via ESPN) on how the 2017 season will unfold. They project the Bengals to have a rebound season that culminates with a 9-7 record.
That would be a three-win improvement from last season, and it’s also good enough for a playoff berth as a Wild Card team. Unfortunately, this same projection has Pittsburgh winning the division by a pretty wide margin.
At 13-3, the Steelers are, in theory, four games better than the Bengals. As bad as Cincinnati was last season, there still was just a five-win difference between the two clubs, not to mention both matchups between the two teams were decided by an average of just six points. Cincinnati lost five games by five points or less in 2017.
While the Steelers deserve to be the favorite, it’s hard to see them being four wins better than a healthy Bengals team. As for the rest of the AFC North, this projection has the Ravens going 8-8, followed by the Browns at 5-11. The Bengals should get at least three wins between those two teams if they want to make the playoffs and contend for the AFC North crown.
Here’s how Football Outsiders projected the entire AFC North:
1. Pittsburgh Steelers: 13-3 (13.1 mean wins; SOS: 27)
2. Cincinnati Bengals: 9-7 (8.8 mean wins; SOS: 26)
3. Baltimore Ravens: 8-8 (7.8 mean wins; SOS: 19)
4. Cleveland Browns: 5-11 (5.4 mean wins; SOS: 11)
Here is their writeup of the AFC North:
Pittsburgh and New England come out far ahead of the rest of the league in our forecast, with the Steelers powered by the best offensive projection in the league. The Steelers have exceptional offensive line continuity, as all five starting linemen have been in Pittsburgh for at least four seasons. Pittsburgh might have the best running back and the best wide receiver in the league, and we can expect some rebound from Ben Roethlisberger after an inconsistent 2016 season. We also expect Cincinnati to bounce back on both sides of the ball, and the Bengals get eight home games again after losing one to London in 2016.
Baltimore has brought in talent on defense in free agency, but the Ravens have lost a lot, as well, with the trade of Timmy Jernigan and the surprising retirement of Zachary Orr. Cleveland continues to rebuild, but at least the defense should be better with a full season from Jamie Collins and the return of Desmond Bryant and Nate Orchard from injury.
And here’s how their entire AFC standings played out:
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Cincinnati Bengals*
8. Baltimore Ravens
10. Buffalo Bills
12. Miami Dolphins
13. New York Jets
14. Houston Texans
15. Denver Broncos
16. Cleveland Browns
* Denotes Wild Card teams
What do you think? Would you be happy with a nine-win season from the Bengals in 2017? Do you think the team will do better? Worse?