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ESPN projects Bengals to have a top-10 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft

Yes, ESPN is already projecting the Bengals’ win total and draft position for the 2019 NFL Draft, and it’s as frustrating as a Bengals fan could imagine.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

With the offseason in full swing, the Cincinnati Bengals are now focusing on the 2018 NFL Draft.

While that’s true of every NFL team and most of the national media, ESPN, with the help of Football Outsiders, took it upon themselves to take a gander at what the 2019 draft order could look like. While they didn’t make any projections in terms of prospects who could go in the top 10 of 2019’s draft, ESPN did project the Bengals’ win total and subsequent draft positioning for that draft, and it’s not good.

7. Cincinnati Bengals (6.9 wins)

The Bengals have settled into an unimpressive mediocrity, as befits a team that never changes management unless someone leaves of their own volition. The offense has declined for two straight years, while the defense has finished 17th in DVOA for two straight years.

That’s painful to read in regards to the defense for a multitude of reasons. A big reason is that the Bengals have their best defender (Geno Atkins) and third-best defender (Carlos Dunlap) set to become free agents in 2019. Then you’ve got their second-best defender (Vontaze Burfict) continuing to miss multiple games annually due to injuries and suspensions.

As much as the defense has struggled at times, it could get excruciatingly painful to watch by 2019 if Atkins and/or Dunlap end up elsewhere.

The offense has struggled mightily at times in the past two seasons, but with the majority of their starting 11 under contract into 2019 — highlighted by Joe Mixon, A.J. Green, Andy Dalton, Giovani Bernard and John Ross (if he ever lives up to his top-10 pick billing — this could shift to a strong offense with a defense needing to catch up.

Anyhow, in terms of what’s essentially a seven-win projection for the Bengals in 2018, that would be a major disappointment after the Bengals went 7-9 in 2017, then kept head coach Marvin Lewis.

The worst part about a 7-9 record would be it gives Mike Brown enough excuses to keep Marvin Lewis for another season in 2019. Then, losing Atkins and Dunlap in that offseason probably becomes even likelier since they’d probably want a chance to contender somewhere else rather than play at a high level in Cincinnati just to help Lewis keep a job he doesn’t deserve.

The Bengals have very winnable games against the Raiders, Buccaneers, Browns, Ravens, Broncos and Dolphins at home. Road matchups with the Browns and Ravens are also very winnable, so that group of games could produce 6-8 wins.

Then there will be what appear to be swing games at the Colts (if they have Andrew Luck), and at home versus the Saints and Steelers.

The road games against the Steelers, Chargers, Panthers, Chiefs and Falcons look quite daunting, especially based on how poor the Bengals have done on the road against decent teams over the last two seasons (3-11 in road games against teams not named the Browns, and two of those wins came against the 5-11 Broncos in 2017 and the 5-11 Jets in 2016).

Do you agree with ESPN’s assessment of where the Bengals will be come 2019?