Just how good will the Cincinnati Bengals be in 2017? It will take playing actual football games to answer that question.
In the meantime, ESPN's Sports Analytics team has calculated its first Football Power Index (FPI) of the 2017 season. Ratings of each team are run through 10,000 simulations in order to determine a team's chances to win its division, make the playoffs, make the Super Bowl and more. Further explanation of the FPI can be found here and here.
As you'd expect, the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots rank first, far ahead of every other NFL team. In fact, the difference between the FPI ranking of the Patriots and the #2 ranked team, the Packers, is the same as the difference between the Packers and the Bengals, who rank 14th on the list of the top 32 NFL teams. For context, the Patriots have a +9.2 FPI rating while the Packers have a +4.8 and the Bengals have a +0.3. The 32nd ranked 49ers have a -7.6 score.
The difference between the Bengals and Ravens is slim. The FPI projects the Bengals to win 8.3 games in 2017, while the Ravens are projected to win 8.8 games. The Bengals have netted two half games (ties) in the last two years, but there’s of course no such thing as winning .3 or .8 of a game. So, the Bengals and Ravens are pretty close in terms of win potential next season.
As far as the division is concerned, the FPI gives the Steelers an incredible 56% chance of capturing the AFC North. Only the Patriots, Packers and Seahawks have better chances to win their respective divisions. The Bengals’ odds of winning the AFC North are listed at 18.4%.
The AFC North is once again set to be a tough division, with only the Browns not projected to finish .500 or better. The Steelers are the preseason favorite to take the division for a second straight year, with the Ravens and Bengals fighting for second place. If the division title race comes down to the final week of the season, take note that Pittsburgh faces Cleveland for the third consecutive season, while the Ravens will host the Bengals in what our projections suggest could determine a wild-card berth.
The Bengals start the season off at home with the Ravens and end it on the road in Baltimore, so you can count on those two games being very important.
What about the playoffs, you ask? The FPI gives the Bengals a 39.0% chance of making it to the playoffs with a 20.6% chance of that coming via a Wild Card seed and a 2.7% chance of it being via the No. 1 overall seed.
The Patriots, as the No. 1 team in FPI and an overwhelming favorite to capture their division (92.3 percent), are also the most likely team to make the playoffs in the AFC. They are also a slight majority favorite to earn the top seed in the conference and home-field advantage throughout the conference portion of the playoffs. The Steelers are the second-most likely playoff participant, as either a division winner or wild card. The two most likely AFC wild-card teams also come out of the North, with the Ravens (23.6 percent) and Bengals (20.6) projected to break through. Rounding out the top five are the Chiefs (20.1) and Raiders (19) -- whoever misses out on the division title there is a strong contender for a wild card.
As for the Super Bowl, the Bengals have a 2.5% chance of reaching the Super Bowl and a 1.0% chance of winning the Super Bowl. Those are slim odds, but, anything is possible! One thing playing into the Bengals' favor during the regular season is the team's 25th ranked strength of schedule.
What do you think of all this FPI talk?