2016 Cincinnati Bengals game-by-game predictions

Since 2009, the Cincinnati Bengals have been road warriors on the NFL's opening weekend. That won't change this September, when they travel in back-to-back weeks before hosting the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. But as tough as the beginning of the Bengals' 2016 schedule might be, somehow, it sets up a familiar, favorable finish. Is another season with a double-digit win total on the horizon?

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 11 at New York Jets 1 p.m. ET

The Bengals have a formidable defense, and the Jets could be handing the reigns to Geno Smith or some other new quarterback. It'll be tough for the Jets to score on a unit that ranked second in scoring defense in 2015. Record: 1-0

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 18 at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m. ET

In their first game against the Steelers since the bizarre finish to January's wild-card playoff loss, the Bengals will be without linebacker Vontaze Burfict. There had been a hope in Cincinnati that his return from a three-game suspension would coincide with the Bengals' first game against the Steelers, but it won't. The Bengals won last year's game in Pittsburgh, but they had Burfict that week. Consider this their first "L." Record: 1-1

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 25 vs. Denver Broncos, 1 p.m. ET

At long last, Bengals fans get to see their team at home, as Cincinnati hosts the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos. They're a team the Bengals took to overtime in December before a botched snap from backup quarterback AJ McCarron effectively gave the Broncos a home win on a Monday. The Bengals hope McCarron isn't starting this time around. This home opener is expected to be the first time Andy Dalton has played in a game at Paul Brown Stadium that mattered since he broke his thumb against Pittsburgh in December. No Peyton Manning? No Brock Osweiler? No problem for the victorious Bengals. Record: 2-1

Week 4: Thursday, Sept. 29 vs. Miami Dolphins, 8:25 p.m. ET

Burfict will be coming back just in time for a prime-time game. The eyes of the nation will be on him to see just what he and others have learned since their last under-the-lights tilt: January's playoff game against Pittsburgh. Has he altered parts of his game as promised? Will Adam Jones' composure no longer be a problem? Based on what the Bengals have been saying since two days after the playoff game, it doesn't appear they have anything to worry about ... at least not this week. Assistant coaches Kevin Coyle (Bengals), Vance Joseph (Dolphins) and Matt Burke (Dolphins) swapped locker rooms this offseason. Record: 3-1

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 9 at Dallas Cowboys, 4:25 p.m. ET

Cincinnati travels to Jerry's World for the first time since the 2013 preseason. Aside from that game, this will be Jones' first time playing in Dallas since he was cut by the Cowboys in 2009. Although the Cowboys scuffled to a 4-12 record last season, they spent much of it without quarterback Tony Romo and their top receiver (Dez Bryant). This Lone Star State trip might not be a walk in the park. Record: 4-1

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 16 at New England Patriots, 1 p.m. ET

With confidence flowing and energy high, the Bengals go to New England rolling. But Foxboro, Massachusetts, has been anything but kind to them over the years. Cincinnati has lost eight of its past nine games at New England, including the 2014 Sunday night game that came on the heels of a Patriots blowout loss at Kansas City the week before. This will be the third straight reunion game for a Bengal. Recently signed receiver Brandon LaFell spent the past two seasons in New England before being cut last month. Record: 4-2

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 23 vs. Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET

In another reunion game, the Bengals host their AFC North rivals in Hue Jackson's first game against them since he left to become the Browns' head coach. Former Bengals scout Greg Seamon is also on Cleveland's staff as tight ends coach. Given the transition period the Browns are in, it's hard to see this game as anything but a lopsided win in Cincinnati's favor. Record: 5-2

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 30 vs. Washington Redskins (in London), 9:30 a.m. ET

The Bengals go back on the road, albeit for a home game. As part of the London series, the Bengals will serve as the home team at Wembley Stadium for this game against Washington. Like the five games before, this will be a reunion-style game, as the Bengals face their old offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden. Behind quarterback Kirk Cousins, Gruden put together a playoff team last season. Can he do it again this year? Record. 6-2

Week 9: Bye week

Week 10: Monday, Nov. 14 at New York Giants, 8:30 p.m. ET

Cincinnati gets back in prime time with a Monday night game. It'll be the first time on such a big stage that former LSU stars Jeremy Hill (Bengals running back) and Odell Beckham Jr. (Giants receiver) square off. Both third-year players are regarded among the best at their positions. Bengals fans are hopeful that by this point on the calendar, Hill is picking up the steam he had midway through his 2014 rookie season. Even if he isn't, the Bengals as a team should be. Record: 7-2

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 20 vs. Buffalo, 1 p.m. ET

After a game overseas and a night game, it could take the Bengals a couple games to get used to playing in the customary 1 p.m. ET slot. Then there's Buffalo's commitment to developing the triumvirate of Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins. It's a group that tested the Bengals early in their win last year at Buffalo. Record: 8-2

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 27 at Baltimore, 1 p.m. ET

At long last, the Ravens and Bengals play. This is the deepest in a season that the teams have gone without playing since 2006, when they met Nov. 30. Desperate to shake off last year's 5-11 showing, Baltimore figures to boast an improved team this season. Record: 8-3

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 4 vs. Philadelphia, 1 p.m. ET

This is the fourth team with a new coaching staff that the Bengals will face. Philadelphia's biggest changes are coming on offense too, which doesn't bode well for a matchup against a defense that seemed to get stronger this offseason. Record: 9-3

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 11 at Cleveland, 1 p.m. ET

Jackson & Co. should have a rough go of it in Week 7, and it's not wrong to expect the same in Week 14. Weather could always impact a December Bengals-Browns game in Cleveland, but even that might not be able to save Jackson's team. Record: 10-3

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 18 vs. Pittsburgh, 8:30 p.m. ET

It's really hard to predict the Bengals lose twice to the Steelers, especially if they have Burfict in this game. Cincinnati has to be glad this game is at home and not at Heinz Field, where he would definitely be viewed as Public Enemy No. 1. That said, it's also difficult (though not impossible) to see the Bengals go 12-4 again this year. Expect fireworks. Record: 10-4

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 24 at Houston, 8:25 p.m. ET

The players' families on both sides have to be glad to know they will not be spending Christmas Day in a football stadium. They will, however, be spending the night before in one. This is the second straight year that the Bengals have played the Texans in prime time, and this time, Cincinnati can only hope T.J. Yates isn't brought out of free agency. Record: 10-5

Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 1 vs. Baltimore, 1 p.m. ET

For the fifth time in six years, the Bengals end a season with a home game against Baltimore. They've been winning these finales. With the AFC North title and a first-round bye potentially on the line, they have to win one more. Record: 11-5