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Bengals’ most important game for making playoffs in 2017

It looks like one of the Bengals’ two matchups with the Ravens could be the deciding factor in how the 2017 season unfolds. That’s what ESPN’s FPI has indicated, at least.

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals are poised for a bounceback 2017 season.

After making it to the playoffs in five consecutive seasons, Cincinnati saw its postseason streak end in 2016 thanks to a dismal 6-9-1 campaign. The Bengals had become accustomed to playing in many close games and coming out on top more often than not during the seasons leading up to those five-straight playoff berths, but those close affairs in 2017 often ended in gut-wrenching defeat.

In the 10 games that ended in a loss or tie for the Bengals in 2016, nine of those contests saw Cincinnati trailing by just one score at some point in the fourth quarter. Five of them saw the Bengals lead in the in the final quarter, and eight of them saw Cincinnati have the ball in the final five minutes with a chance to tie or take the lead.

That’s how thin of a line there was between a playoff season and a losing campaign. That’s why many of the advanced metrics that predict seasons have the Bengals increasing their win total by at least two games this year.

That includes ESPN’s FPI, which ranks the Bengals 15th overall in 2017. Considering the team finished with the ninth worst record last season, that’s a nice projected rise up the rankings.

Now, ESPN’s FPI model is projecting all 32 NFL team’s biggest game of the year in determining their postseason fate. For the Bengals, the team’s Week 17 clash with the Ravens in Baltimore will have the greatest impact on Cincinnati’s postseason hopes, per the FPI:

13. Cincinnati Bengals

Key game: at Ravens (Week 17) | Playoff leverage: 22.8 percent

The Week 17 matchup in Baltimore may end up a win-and-in scenario for both teams, which jibes with the fact that the Bengals' best chance to make the playoffs, per FPI, relies on winning this game (53.3 percent if they do).

The Bengals vs Ravens in Week 17 has become an annual rite of passage. The two AFC North rivals have met in the regular-season finale six times in the last seven years. Ironically, the winner of that game has made the playoffs in all but one season (six times), which was 2016.

The Bengals were the winner of said game four times (2012-13, ‘15-16) and made the playoffs in all but 2016. The Ravens have won this matchup twice (2010-11).

Needless to say, this game has heavy playoff implications almost every year, so FPI is right to peg this matchup as the one that could most define Cincinnati’s 2017 season.

Here’s a look at the Bengals’ 2017 schedule:

Bengals Schedule

Week Opponent Home or Away? Date/Time
Week Opponent Home or Away? Date/Time
Week 1 Ravens Home Sunday, September 10, 2017, 1:00 p.m. ET
Week 2 Texans Home Thursday, September 14 2017, 8:25 p.m. ET
Week 3 Packers Away Sunday, September 25 2017, 4:25 p.m. ET
Week 4 Browns Away Sunday, September 29, 2017, 1:00 p.m. ET
Week 5 Bills Home Sunday, October 9, 2017, 1:00 p.m. ET
Week 6 BYE
Week 7 Steelers Away Sunday, October 22 2017, 1:00 p.m. ET
Week 8 Colts Home Sunday, October 29, 2017, 1:00 p.m. ET
Week 9 Jaguars Away Sunday, November 5, 2017, 1:00 p.m. ET
Week 10 Titans Away Sunday, November 12, 2017, 1:00 p.m. ET
Week 11 Broncos Away Sunday, November 19, 2017, 4:25 p.m. ET
Week 12 Browns Home Sunday, November 26, 2017, 1:00 p.m. ET
Week 13 Steelers Home Monday, December 4, 2017, 8:30 p.m. ET
Week 14 Bears Home Sunday, December 10, 2017, 1:00 p.m. ET
Week 15 Vikings Away Sunday, December 17, 2017, 8:30 p.m. ET
Week 16 Lions Home Sunday, December 24, 2017, 1:00 p.m. ET
Week 17 Ravens Away Sunday, December 31, 2017, 1:00 p.m. ET