Bright side: Pro Football Focus projects the Bengals to be in the playoffs for the sixth straight January.
Dark side: They could be looking up at the Steelers.
The site expects the Steelers, thanks in large part to the expected return of running back Le’Veon Bell and Maurkice Pouncey from season-ending injuries, to be the class of the AFC in 2016.
Three spots later, the Bengals check in. PFF is bullish on coach Marvin Lewis’ team despite a handful of personnel losses in the offseason, noting “for the most part they were either underperforming or defensive backs over the age of 30.”
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Of course, Cincinnati will also get back a key player who wasn’t available for their playoff loss to the Steelers last January: Quarterback Andy Dalton.
He figures to be in focus for much of the season, as will Tyler Boyd, a rookie receiver from Pittsburgh who is expected to at least partially fill the shoes of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, a pair of receivers in their mid-20s who combined to catch 88 passes for 1,210 yards and four touchdowns last season. Both left in free agency.
PFF projects the Patriots to finish second in the AFC with Oakland third.
The Bengals are one spot ahead of the defending Super Bowl-champion Denver Broncos with Kansas City grabbing the last Wild Card spot.
If these projections come to pass, the Bengals would have to play on the opening weekend of the postseason but again get a home game, this time against the Broncos.