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ESPN predicts Bengals make NFL playoffs in 2017

Thanks to a favorable schedule, the Bengals are in prime position for a rebound season that includes a playoff berth.

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Will the Cincinnati Bengals make it back to the NFL playoffs this season?

After last year’s 6-9-1 disaster, Cincinnati isn’t a team that’s gotten much love this offseason, especially when it comes to playoff projections. However, there are plenty of reasons to think this team can easily get back to the postseason after their five-straight playoff trips from 2011-2015.

For starters, the Bengals lost six games in 2016 that were all decided by just one score. If they can just go .500 in those types of games, the Bengals probably make the playoffs.

Another reason to be high on the Bengals is health. At various points last year, the Bengals were without Tyler Eifert, A.J. Green and Vontaze Burfict, three of the team’s four or five most important players. Having all of them for the majority of the 2017 season could be enough to propel Cincinnati back into the playoffs.

Oh, and did we mention Cincinnati has a really easy schedule? In fact, ESPN’s Mike Clay believes the Bengals’ schedule is the second-easiest of any NFL team in 2017:

2. Cincinnati Bengals: Cincinnati will face the AFC South and NFC North and divisional opponents Cleveland and Baltimore aren't very good, and their unique games are against Denver and rebuilding Buffalo.

That favorable schedule is a big reason why Clay has the Bengals making it back to the playoffs this season as a No. 5 seed.

5. Cincinnati Bengals: They have the league's easiest schedule, a solid defense and an incredible group of offensive skill guys.

While the Bengals clearly have some question marks heading into the regular season, this is still shaping up to a be a schedule they should be able to get nine or 10 wins from. Right out of the gate, Cincinnati should be able to win their home matchups with the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans. The Bengals nearly beat both of those teams last year on the road without Green, not to mention Houston still has major concerns at quarterback. The Bengals also beat the Ravens at home in a decisive Week 17 victory.

The Bengals also get two matchups with the Cleveland Browns, which should be a sweep (if it’s not, someone should be losing their job...). Then there are home games against the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts. That’s a weak group that Cincinnati should get at least three wins from.

Cincinnati should also be able to win a road game versus the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are still a mess offensively. That’s eight or nine wins right there with the aforementioned teams. Then, Cincinnati probably needs just one or two more wins from road games versus the Denver Broncos, Tennessee Titans, Minnesota Vikings and Ravens. That won’t’ be easy, but those teams are vulnerable enough to think Cincinnati gets at least one win there, and hopefully more.

This is really shaping up to be a 2011-type of season with the Bengals fully capable of getting nine-plus wins from a very favorable schedule.