Cincinnati Bengals schedule analysis

Breakdown: The defending AFC North champions have quite a road ahead of them. Coming off 10 wins and a first-place finish in 2009, the Cincinnati Bengals have the fourth-toughest schedule in the NFL.

It will be interesting to see how Cincinnati handles its success. The Bengals haven't had back-to-back winning seasons in 28 years and will try to accomplish that feat against one of the league's toughest slates.

The Bengals sputtered at the end of the last season, which doesn't bode well for momentum. But with a very good defense and expected improvements made in the passing game, Cincinnati looks to contend for a playoff spot once again.

Complaint department: If last year was any indication, the Bengals could end the season against four likely playoff contenders in the final five weeks of the season.

Starting in Week 13, Cincinnati will play the defending champion New Orleans Saints. The Bengals also will play the Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 14), San Diego Chargers (Week 16) and Baltimore Ravens (Week 17). Last year Cincinnati faded down the stretch but probably can't afford to do the same this season if it wants to qualify for the postseason.

Thanksgiving with the Jets: After losing to the New York Jets in back-to-back weeks, which included the wild-card round, the Bengals will get another crack at last year's nemesis in Week 12. The matchup will be a Thanksgiving prime-time game on NFL Network Nov. 25.

The Jets were dominant in both meetings last season. If Cincinnati wants to prove New York doesn't have its number, the Bengals will get their chance on national television.

Bengals Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, at New England, 1:00 PM

Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, Baltimore, 1:00 PM

Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, at Carolina, 1:00 PM

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3, at Cleveland, 1:00 PM

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM

Week 6: BYE

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 24, at Atlanta, 1:00 PM

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 31, Miami, 1:00 PM

Week 9: Monday, Nov. 8, Pittsburgh, 8:30 PM

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14, at Indianapolis, 1:00 PM

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, Buffalo, 1:00 PM

Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 25, at NY Jets, 8:20 PM

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, New Orleans, 1:00 PM

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, at Pittsburgh, 1:00 PM

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 19, Cleveland, 1:00 PM

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 26, San Diego, 8:20 PM

Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, at Baltimore, 1:00 PM