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Pro Football Focus predicts Bengals to finish in bottom half of AFC

Keep sleeping on the Bengals.

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NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

You could make a great argument for the AFC being the NFL’s superior conference.

After all, the AFC has won four of the past five Super Bowls, and they’ll be favored to do so again in Super Bowl 52 with the defending champion Patriots. However, there’s going to be some great depth in this conference with teams like the Steelers, Titans, Colts and Raiders having a ton of firepower.

That’s why seeing the Bengals projected to finish low in the AFC standings shouldn’t be much of a surprise, nor should it be taken as disrespect. That’s the case in Pro Football Focus’ AFC projections for the 2017 season, where Cincinnati comes in at 10th in the conference with projected 7-9 record:

10. Cincinnati Bengals (7-9)

The Bengals had their worst season in six years in 2016. A big part of the problem was key injuries, including A.J. Green missing the last several games of the season. His 2.86 yards per route run last year was a rate bested by only Julio Jones. While his return is a reason to believe they can do better, their losses on the offensive line suggest they won’t. Andrew Whitworth had the top pass-blocking efficiency for tackles, and Kevin Zeitler was in the top five for guards, and both are in new homes. Andy Dalton’s adjusted completion percentage of 60.6 was tied for fourth-worst for quarterbacks, so Cincinnati may be seeing its second straight season without the playoffs.

The win-loss record is a bit lower than the Bengals deserve, but then again, you could say that for the Colts and Dolphins, two teams ahead of Cincinnati in this projection. I do think the Bills (7) and Chargers (4) are very overrated in this projection. I’d expect the Bengals to finish ahead of both of them this season, especially with the Chargers playing in a more competitive AFC West.

The good news for the Bengals is they’ll have eight games against teams ranked lower than them in this projection. Having half of their 2017 schedule against the Ravens (11), Texans (12), Broncos (13), Jaguars (14) and Browns (15) is why seven wins is a mark the Bengals should pass this year.

The Bengals simply have too much firepower to not win more than seven games this year. If they fail to reach that mark, it likely will be because key injuries once again ravaged the roster as they did last year.

Here’s how PFF’s projection played out for the entire AFC:

1. New England Patriots (projected record: 12-4)

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)

3. Oakland Raiders (11-5)

4. Los Angeles Chargers (10-6)

5. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7)

6. Tennessee Titans (9-7)

7. Buffalo Bills (8-8)

8. Miami Dolphins (8-8)

9. Indianapolis Colts (7-9)

10. Cincinnati Bengals (7-9)

11. Baltimore Ravens (7-9)

12. Houston Texans (6-10)

13. Denver Broncos (6-10)

14. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10)

15. Cleveland Browns (4-12)

16. New York Jets (2-14)