The 2017 NFL schedules have been released and fans everywhere are attempting to project where the Bengals may end up in 2017. After a six-win season marred with injuries and underachievement, we’re all left wondering how Cincinnati can get their eighth postseason appearance in 10 years.
It’s an odd dichotomy, really. For years, those associated with the Bengals have wondered how they can get past the postseason hump, while this year is about getting back to the big dance. Marvin Lewis is in the last year of his current contract, and there doesn’t seem to be an extension on the horizon, so this is a critical year in the direction of the franchise for the foreseeable future.
Here are the facets going for and against the Bengals with their playoff quest in 2017, as well as a very early prognostication of their win-loss record, given what they, and the teams they are facing, have shown us over the past calendar year.
Aspects in the Bengals’ favor in 2017:
2016 win percentage of opposition on schedule: Because of a poor season last year by the Bengals, they have the benefit of engaging in a schedule that seems a bit easy. Obviously, having the Cleveland Browns on it twice and their 1-15 record from last season helps, as does having the Bears and Jaguars.
In fact, the Bengals have the fourth-easiest schedule this year, based on last year’s .449 cumulative win percentage of the teams on this year’s slate. There are just five games against playoff teams from last year (Packers, Steelers, Texans, Lions) and three of those contests are at home.
Next week’s NFL Draft and the picks they have: With 11 picks in their arsenal and three in top-75, the Bengals can quickly improve off of their six-win season and its roster from last year. Of course, playing these potential early-impact players is another issue, but the team does seem to be dedicated to getting younger and faster at key spots.
Whether they package some picks to maneuver around the draft happens or not, the Bengals should be able to replenish the once-deep roster this year. Because next weekend hasn’t played out yet, their gains over the weekend could alter this early prediction on wins and losses.
Guys getting healthy and avoiding the injury bug: The Bengals lost key players at crucial points in the season last year, including two of their biggest offensive weapons in A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert, who missed a combined 14 games last year. It’s a bit ambiguous as to what’s happening with Eifert’s rehab at the moment, but Cincinnati has been one of the healthiest overall teams over the past two years.
The front and back ends of this year’s schedule: In what seems like an inexplicable decision by the schedule-makers, the Bengals start the season at home for the first time since 2009. Additionally, the Bengals have three of their first five games at home, with four of the last six also at Paul Brown Stadium.
Compare that to four of first six on the road, which happened to be against three of 2016’s playoff teams in the first portion of last year’s schedule, as well as finishing with three on the road in the final six contests. And, depending on how you view the benefit of when the bye week hits, the Bengals get it three weeks earlier this year.
Aspects going against them this year:
A free agency period filled with personnel losses and inactivity: This offseason, the Bengals lost Kevin Zeitler, Andrew Whitworth, Rex Burkhead and Karlos Dansby to other teams. They didn’t fully remedy these losses with outside additions, with their crowning achievements being Andre Smith and Kevin Minter—both who signed just one-year deals. They’re relying on the draft, which could yield great long-term results, but as we all know, rookies can be a crap-shoot.
A slew of borderline 2016 playoff teams: Even though just 31% of the schedule pits the Bengals against playoff teams from last season, six of the other games on the schedule feature squads who had at least seven wins last year (Bills, Ravens, Titans, Vikings, Colts). If Bengals fans thought the team was just a few unlucky bounces and injuries away from being a playoff team last year, those aforementioned teams were in similar boats, who have also largely been more active in free agency than Cincinnati this offseason.
An improving division: Really, the team who looks to be the most improved in the AFC North is the Cleveland Browns. While the Bengals have largely owned them since their re-inception back to the NFL in 1999, Hue Jackson might be building something reputable—especially if they finally figure out the quarterback spot.
The Ravens will likely be in the mix, as they always seem to be, and Cincinnati can’t figure out a way to even regularly split the series against the Steelers, who, by the way, went to the AFC Championship once again last season. Also, as the Bengals have the sixth-easiest schedule, Pittsburgh has the eighth-easiest.
Primetime: The Bengals have three primetime games once again this season, and depending on your view of the the team on the platform, this may be a good or bad thing. Thursday Night Football is often viewed as a handicap for teams because of the short week, and the Bengals are thrust into a matchup with the Texans very early in the season (Week 2). They also have two other tough matchups against Pittsburgh in Week 13 on Monday Night Football, as well as another Sunday Night Football matchup against Mike Zimmer, who is intimately familiar with the Marvin Lewis and the Bengals.
Early Win-Loss Breakdown:
Week 1, Ravens at Bengals: Even though the Bengals have struggled against NFL powerhouses, they have had some success against the Ravens in the Andy Dalton era, going 7-5 in head-to-head matchups since 2011. It probably won’t be pretty, and if we know anything about these games in recent history, it’s to expect the unexpected, but I see the Bengals starting off on the right foot. Result: Win
Week 2, Texans at Bengals, Thursday Night Football: Since Dalton took over as the starting quarterback, Houston has dominated Cincinnati—be it the regular season or the postseason. Cincinnati has an appalling 1-5 record against Houston since 2011, including the postseason, which includes four losses coming on the biggest primetime stages.
The Texans have issues at quarterback and tend to play better as the year wears on, but the Bengals almost never play well in on the national stage—especially against Houston. Even though it’s at home, it’s a short week early in the year, and I think the Bengals lose a snoozer. Result: Loss
Week 3, Bengals at Packers: Cincinnati plays at one of the most iconic fields in the NFL, as they take on a Green Bay team who played in the NFC Championship game last year. The Packers also tend to play better as the year progresses, but we shouldn’t count out Green Bay in a tough game on their turf in Week 3. The Bengals won a crazy one against them in Cincinnati back in 2013, while their other recent wins against them in 2005 and 2009 were also a bit wacky. Fun fact: the future Hall of Fame quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, is 0-2 against Cincinnati in his career as a starter. Yeah, that changes this year. Result: Loss
Week 4, Bengals at Browns: Jackson is doing something admirable in Cleveland, and the Browns deserve some form of credit for sticking with him after an abysmal year in 2016. They’re improving, and Jackson is familiar with Lewis’ tendencies, so one can see the Browns squeaking one out against the Bengals at home. Result: Loss
Week 5, Bills at Bengals: Is it me, or are the games against the Bills, especially recently, incredibly frustrating when pulling for the Bengals? Even when it seems as if Cincinnati should totally dominate the contest, Buffalo finds a way to frustrate the Bengals in one form or another. The Bills are in the midst of a coaching change and have experienced significant free agency losses, so I think the Bengals right the ship before the bye. Result: Win
Week 7, Bengals at Steelers: Ironically enough, under Lewis, the Bengals have had more success at Heinz Field than at PBS. Cincinnati has an embarrassing 8-22 record against the Steelers under Lewis, including the postseason, with six of those wins coming on Pittsburgh’s home turf. Still, aside from the wins they have sneaked away within the Steel City, the team has an abysmal historical .376 winning percentage against the Black and Yellow, which is good for 10th-worst in their history. Did we mention Lewis’ Bengals are awful off of a bye week? Result: Loss
Week 8, Colts at Bengals: Cincinnati hasn’t fared much better against Baltimore/Indianapolis in their history, either. Whether it was with Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck at the helm in recent years, the Bengals just haven’t had any kind of success against the Colts.
The mind tells me Indianapolis will take this one, but other reasons point to what looks like a somewhat-young Bengals team finding their stride in the middle of the season. There is also some recent concern about an offseason shoulder procedure Luck had, so who knows if he’s even under center? Result: Win
Week 9, Bengals at Jaguars: Years ago, a Mark Brunell-led Jacksonville squad mowed through Cincinnati with regularity. However, they have been one of the worst-run franchises in the NFL recently, constantly reaching in the draft and overpaying for free agents. The Jaguars should improve off of a 3-13 record from last year, but this is a game Cincinnati should win and probably will, given its 1 P.M. kickoff on a Sunday. Result: Win
Week 10, Bengals at Titans: Marcus Mariota really turned the corner last year and had Tennessee in playoff contention down the stretch. The Titans are lacking outside receiver threats, but they have two talented running backs and run the read-option with their athletic quarterback. Though Cincinnati’s defense has been stout in recent years, they almost always struggle against running quarterbacks. Result: Loss
Week 11, Bengals at Broncos: It’s been a back-and-forth battle in recent years between Denver and Cincinnati, but the offensive skill positions and edge rushers for the Broncos have been too much for the Bengals to handle, for the most part. Even so, Denver is still relatively unsettled at quarterback, and this could be the time of year where John Elway mandates Vance Joseph (another coach who is familiar with the Bengals) to start Paxton Lynch—especially if the season gets out of control. Many of these recent matchups have been on primetime and/or have meant quite a bit to both team’s respective playoff positions at the time, but the Bengals gut one out here. Result: Win
Week 12, Browns at Bengals: It’s highly-possible the Bengals end up sweeping this series again this year, but at a minimum, they put their foot down on their in-state rivals as they make a late-season push to the playoffs. While Cleveland might sneak one early in the year against the Bengals, I see Cincinnati running away with this one at home. Result: Win
Week 13, Steelers at Bengals, Monday Night Football: A big stage, with two teams potentially vying for a playoff spot and a venue where the Bengals trip over their own feet against their division rival. It’s possible they pull one out here, but it just doesn’t seem to regularly fall their way. Result: Loss
Week 14, Bears at Bengals: Chicago is a mess. They haven’t figured out their quarterback spot and 2015 first round pick, Kevin White, hasn’t brought the defensive matchup nightmares they envisioned with Alshon Jeffery because of injuries. Cincinnati probably cruises to a double-digit win here. Result: Win
Week 15: Bengals at Vikings: A true chess match will ensue here and this is truly a coin-flip game, in terms of calling a win or a loss. Whoever may be starting for Minnesota at quarterback, be it Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater, will take care of the ball and limit downfield chances. Zimmer probably gets the best of Lewis in what could be a huge primetime game for both teams in a squeaker. Result: Loss
Week 16, Lions at Bengals: Are there two franchises who mirror each other, in terms of big-name talent and high-profile failures, more so than the Lions and the Bengals? This one has a shootout written all over it and I’m banking on the young players on Cincinnati’s roster to a much-needed win. It won’t be comfortable because Detroit is talented and can put up points, but if Cincinnati is healthy at this time of year, they should take this one. Result: Win
Week 17, Bengals at Ravens: It’s weird to proclaim that the Bengals will split with Cleveland and sweep Baltimore, but that’s how I see it playing out. While we mentioned a 7-5 record against the Ravens in the Dalton era, all seven victories have come since 2012, with four of them coming in head-to-head contests to end the year. I see it happening again, perhaps in a field goal-fest. Result: Win
A 9-7 record, as is predicted above, could mean a number of things. On one hand, it could be very generous, given some of the vanilla results we saw from the Bengals last year. However, aside from some above-mentioned injuries, Cincinnati did have seven non-win results in 2016 (losses and tie) be decided by one possession. Perhaps this is still a talented roster who can use some exciting rookies to sneak back into the postseason. And, if you’re keeping track, the games we have the Bengals winning are ones that they largely should win—which is their forte.
Also, as we saw last year, a number of teams who hovered around that record missed out on the postseason. Still, if the Bengals end up taking care of business in their division, which is of utmost importance, they could grind their way into the postseason.
On the other hand, what did they do this offseason to truly improve their roster after such a disappointing season? An offensive line, which was a mess last year, lost its two best players to free agency, while the team only re-signed two of its top five internal free agents.
Additionally, Adam Jones remains on the roster after another off-field run-in and some draft prospects the Bengals have shown significant interest in (Reuben Foster and Joe Mixon) have big character red flags. While their additions could bring short-term success, it could lead to an internal locker room implosion. This could point to another “meh” season from Cincinnati.
This Bengals team is hovering in the 7-10 win range. While that seems like a relatively large range for a record, out-of-control factors obviously play a part.
If their key players stay healthy, the assistant coaches who struggled last year show growth and the recent draft classes start to bear fruit, we could be looking at a double-digit win season. Whether or not that happens and if that could lead to the ever-elusive playoff win, remains to be seen, but Cincinnati should be relatively competitive this season.
However, as we saw last year, significant free agency losses greatly affected the team. More occurred this offseason without a safe windfall of those losses, so it’s easy to see the team picking within the top-15 once again in 2018.
What is your prediction of the Bengals’ 2017 record, based on their schedule?