An 0-2 start won't rattle playoff-bound (again) Cincinnati Bengals

One of the NFL's longest active playoff streaks will continue this season when the Cincinnati Bengals earn a franchise-record sixth straight postseason berth. Will they finally win a playoff game? That question is tough to answer. Back in April, we predicted the Bengals to finish 11-5. Can that still happen? That's one question we can answer by taking the following game-by-game look:

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

Cincinnati's journey begins the same place it has every opening weekend since 2009 -- on the road. Those road openers haven't gone too well, either, as the Bengals have posted a 3-4 record. Two of those wins have come the past two seasons, though. Though the Bengals are more talented than the Jets on paper, they will have to contend with an extra element during this trip: emotion. This game comes on the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The entire region will be eager for a Jets win. With key Bengals like Tyler Eifert possibly missing the opener because of injury, MetLife Stadium's added energy could play a factor for the Jets. Record: 0-1

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

In another game that will be defined by emotion, the Bengals visit the Steel City for the first time since last season's Week 8 win against Pittsburgh. From bars in both cities, to TVs of casual football fans around the country, to the monitors inside the league offices, many eyes will be on this game. Viewers will be anticipating an intense game because of recent history. The past seven games between these teams have been among the ugliest this rivalry has seen. With both teams vying once again for the AFC North crown, more of the same could be coming -- even without Vontaze Burfict. Record: 0-2

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

The schedule-makers really did the Bengals little favors at the start of this schedule. After back-to-back road games, the Bengals come home to host the reigning Super Bowl champions. Sure, the Broncos might have some offensive uncertainty as they usher in a new quarterbacking era, but they also bring to Cincinnati a defense that still features Super Bowl MVP Von Miller. But fed up with an 0-2 start, the Bengals will ride their own fans' energy and get the win. Record: 1-2

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

Now, things get interesting. With a chance to improve to 2-2, the Bengals welcome Burfict back to the lineup after the linebacker missed three games because of a suspension for the aggressive nature of his play. Thus, the theme of the season, "emotion," returns. In front of his energetic home crowd, and on the big stage of a nationally televised game, Burfict will assert his game-changing dominance. Remember, before the craziness at the end of last season's playoff game against Pittsburgh, he had an interception that put the Bengals less than two minutes from icing a victory. Record: 2-2

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

The potential for a hiccup looms here, but it won't happen. By this point, the preseason health concerns Cincinnati had should have completely faded. If the combination of Eifert, tight end Tyler Kroft and cornerback Darqueze Dennard aren't all healthy by Week 1, they certainly ought to be by this point. That means on offense and defense, the Bengals will be back in the rhythm they had hoped to establish during the preseason. Record: 3-2

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

All the momentum the Bengals were building comes to a screeching halt in Week 6 when they visit Tom Brady's Patriots. Once again, the word of the season, "emotion," should play a role. Much the way Burfict's return ought to engender a positive response from Bengals fans in Week 4, the same ought to happen in Gillette Stadium when Brady plays in front of his fans for the first time since his four-game suspension for "Deflategate." Brady officially returns Oct. 9 at Cleveland, but this will be his first home game. Based on how he played against the Bengals in the "On to Cincinnati" game in 2014, Brady will be hard to stop. But Burfict won't make it easy in a close game. Record: 3-3

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

Just like that, the most difficult stretch of the Bengals' season concludes. Granted, they will want back the losses against the Steelers and Patriots, but they will have their chances to pick up a couple of other big-game wins later in the season. This won't be one. Yes, they will win this game, but it won't be considered a big-game victory -- at least not yet. Perhaps in another year or two, Cleveland will have all the pieces to contend for a division title. For now, though, Hue Jackson's Paul Brown Stadium homecoming won't go well for his Browns. Record: 4-3

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

After beating one former offensive coordinator in Week 7, the Bengals will do the same in Week 8 when they take on Jay Gruden's Washington team in the Bengals' first overseas trip. Multiple time changes (in addition to the time-zone adjustment, that also will be the weekend London changes from daylight savings time) could be difficult, but the Bengals will close out the first half of the season with a win. Record: 5-3

Week 9: Bye week

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

The Bengals' first game of November brings them back to MetLife Stadium. They won't lose a second game there. Sure, Odell Beckham Jr. will probably put on show for the Monday night cameras, but his former LSU teammate Jeremy Hill figures to have a better third season than he did a second one. Close to his rookie-year form, Hill could be a difference-maker in his first regular-season game against his friend. Record: 6-3

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

In what will be its first game at home in about a month, Cincinnati's defense will be tested by a Bills offense that has the type of balance that might make them an AFC dark horse in 2016. Tyrod Taylor has settled in at quarterback, and Sammy Watkins -- if healthy -- has proven his playmaking ability. The combination of LeSean McCoy and Reggie Bush could make Buffalo's backfield dangerous, too. Still, this Bengals defense will be up to the task. Record: 7-3

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

Of late, the Bengals have felt at home at M&T Bank Stadium, walking away with wins in 2014 and 2015. A.J. Green was the hero in both, and he even had a key touchdown reception to send the Bengals to overtime in their last loss at Baltimore. With the Bengals fully in sync at this stage of the season, expect more of the same -- not only from Green but those around him, too. The winning streak is now at five. Record: 8-3

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

Playing in only their second home game since the middle of October, the Bengals will want their fans to experience a taste of what's made them roll through the middle of the season. Under first-year head coach Doug Pederson, the Eagles' offense will struggle to handle Cincinnati's imposing defensive line. Record: 9-3

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

At this point, it's a foregone conclusion that the Bengals are headed back to the playoffs. Sure, they might not clinch their sixth straight postseason berth in this game, but a likely win against the still-being-reinvented Browns will at least put them on the brink. Record: 10-3

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

Seven straight wins, back home, hosting the rival Steelers, Burfict will be playing ... why exactly would we think the Bengals will lose this game? Because it's December and they're playing Pittsburgh. Just about anything and everything that you could think of has gone against the Bengals in this matchup during December games the past few seasons. The Bengals haven't beaten the Steelers after Dec. 1 since 2012. Before that, the series' four previous December meetings all ended in Bengals losses. Expect more of the same. Record: 10-4

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

Let's assume the Bengals didn't clinch the playoff berth with the win against the Browns in Week 14. They could be in the position here of either needing to beat Houston to get into the postseason, or requiring help from other teams to do so. It wouldn't be surprising if the Bengals' next win helps them not only get into the playoffs but clinch a division title, too, tie-breaking scenarios aside. Will this be a Christmas to remember for the Bengals? Much like Pittsburgh and December, Houston on the road has its haunts, too. Sure, the Bengals had an NRG Stadium win in 2014, but they lost their previous three games in that building. Record: 10-5

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

Two losses to the Steelers, an 0-2 start and still the Bengals will be playoff-bound for a sixth straight season, and AFC North champs for a second straight. It all happens when they beat Baltimore to close out the season. Record: 11-5