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Bengals face NFL’s fourth-easiest strength of schedule in 2017

Only three NFL teams are facing easier schedules in 2017 than the Bengals.

Cincinnati Bengals v New York Jets Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Based on the combined record of their opponents in 2016, the Cincinnati Bengals’ strength of schedule in 2017 (.449) looks to be about as simple as an NFL schedule can be. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars (.439), Tennessee Titans (.439), and Indianapolis Colts (.424) will enjoy easier schedules than the Bengals, all of whom are on the Bengals’ 2017 schedule.

Quarter 1: Starting with rivalries

Baltimore, Houston, Green Bay, Cleveland

In the first two weeks of the season, the Bengals will host the division rival Baltimore Ravens and the general rival Houston Texans. The Ravens have historically been a very good team, but the Bengals have had their number in recent years. In fact, the Bengals have won seven of their last nine matchups with the Ravens, and haven’t lost to the Ravens in Cincinnati since Week 17 of the 2011 season.

The Bengals’ rivalry with the Texans is primarily based on the fact that they have played each other six times during the Dalton-Green era. The Texans have won all but one of those games, but the games tend to be close and tend to take place in prime time, where tensions tend to be inflated. This year, the Bengals play the Texans in the national spotlight, once again, on Thursday Night Football. Despite being a playoff team, the Texans looked extremely beatable in 2016, only beating the Bengals because of a missed field goal in Week 16. A revitalized Bengals team should put up a much better performance against the Texans in 2017.

Of all the teams in the Bengals’ first four games, the Packers easily have the least pronounced rivalry with the Bengals. However, the Bengals are the only team in the NFL (other than the Packers) whom Aaron Rodgers has never beaten. The Browns, on the other hand, have a long, storied rivalry with the Bengals, although have failed to beat the Bengals in their last four meetings. So far, neither team has improved significantly over disappointing 2016 results, so the Bengals should stay competitive in these games despite traveling on the road.

Quarter 2: Grinding and resting

Buffalo, Bye, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis

The Bengals’ toughest stretch of the season could also include their rest week. They start off against the Buffalo Bills, whom they have beaten every year but one in the Dalton-Green era. However, the most recent meeting between the teams resulted in a Bills win on the Bengals’ turf, and injuries to both A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard. If the Bengals stay healthy, there is a solid chance they beat the formerly 7-9 Bills before they take Week 6 off.

After the bye, the Bengals take on their arch rivals and the defending division champion Pittsburgh Steelers. It is hard to say what will happen in such a heated division rivalry game, but it should be safe to say the game will be a tough one, especially when the Steelers have won seven of the last eight meetings between the teams. The Colts enjoy the easiest strength of schedule in 2017 and, if recent history is to be believed, are poised to break out in 2017.

Quarter 3: The road streak

Jacksonville, Tennessee, Denver, Cleveland

The Jaguars and Titans are two teams expected to continue wading near the bottom of their conference in 2017, making the Bengals’ three-game road stretch seem less intimidating. Even if the Marcus Mariota era takes off earlier than expected in Tennessee, the Bengals haven’t lost to the Titans since 2008 and the Jaguars since 2005. The Bengals continue on the road against the Broncos in Week 11, where they haven’t won since 1975. However, the Broncos are certainly not the same team that recently dominated the NFL under Peyton Manning’s direction, so this could be the Bengals’ year to end the streak.

Finally, the Bengals return home to face the Browns a second time. Until they prove otherwise, the Browns should not be expected to put up much of a fight on the Bengals’ home turf, where the Bengals have won by at least two touchdowns in three of the last four meetings in Paul Brown Stadium, and where the Bengals have only lost to the Browns once since 2009.

Quarter 4: Facing the NFC North

Chicago, Minnesota, Detroit, Baltimore

The last quarter of the season, typically referred to as the ‘push for the playoffs,’ will open, for the Bengals, in Cincinnati against the bottom of the 2016 NFC North barrel, as well as the second-worst team in the NFC in 2016. The Chicago Bears are currently in the middle of a team-overhaul and shouldn’t be considered much of a threat to the Bengals in 2017. However, the Vikings and Lions should be competitive in 2017, so the Bengals will want to be at the top of their game both weeks if they want to finish the season off strong.

Finally, the Bengals finish the season in Baltimore against the Ravens. As previously explained, the historically strong Ravens haven’t been much of a threat lately. However, division rivalries are typically more hard-fought than the average NFL game, so this could be a perfect practice game for the playoffs if the Bengals are in a position to make it by Week 17.