Cincinnati Bengals schedule analysis

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Breakdown: Sure, the Cincinnati Bengals' schedule starts off with an uninspiring yet winnable road game against an Oakland team that finished 3-13 last year and has a new head coach, but it heats up quickly. After beginning their sixth straight season on the road, the Bengals host potential playoff contenders San Diego, Kansas City and Seattle before breaking for a reasonable midseason bye. On the heels of last year's Week 4 bye, this one falls in the perfect spot -- later in the year -- and one week before a challenging division game against Pittsburgh that could be flexed into prime time.

Speaking of night games, the Bengals currently have four scheduled, including a Monday night rematch with Denver, the AFC West champion they held off under the lights at home last December. The four scheduled prime-time games match a franchise record set in 1990 and 2007. Since 2008, the Bengals are 3-11 in regular-season games played at night.

Complaint department: In fairness, considering they already knew how challenging their schedule would be based on the divisions they are paired with this season, the Bengals don't have much to complain about. The schedule is fairly balanced in terms of home and road games, unlike last year's stretches of three straight at home then three straight away from Paul Brown Stadium. Still, the Bengals probably aren't too happy about the consecutive road prime-time games late in the year at San Francisco and Denver. A lot will likely be on the line in both, and given Cincinnati's recent history at night -- particularly on the road, where the Bengals are 1-12 since 2005 -- there ought to be valid concern about how the games could impact the playoff push.

Pivot points: It's hard on paper to see the Bengals winning 10 or more games, but there are a couple of pivot points in the schedule that could get them there. Since it'll be a tough year for the entire division, one has to imagine 10 wins will get an AFC North team into the postseason this coming season. Nine wins might even get the job done. That said, the Bengals definitely want to take advantage of the Oct. 11 game against Seattle, both games against Pittsburgh, each of the prime-time games, the contest at Arizona and the finale against Baltimore. As happened last year, the division could be won in the last week. Wins over either Seattle or Arizona might be the biggest difference between a 10-win or nine-win season.

Strength of schedule: 2nd, .563

Bengals regular-season schedule (all times Eastern)

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 13, at Oakland, 4:35 p.m.

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 20, San Diego, 1 p.m.

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 27, at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 4, Kansas City, 1 p.m.

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 11, Seattle, 1 p.m.

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 18, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.

Week 7: BYE

Week 8: Sunday, Nov. 1, at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.

Week 9: Thursday, Nov. 5, Cleveland, 8:25 p.m.

Week 10: Monday, Nov. 16, Houston, 8:30 p.m.

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 22, at Arizona, 4:05 p.m.

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 29, St. Louis, 1 p.m.

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 6, at Cleveland, 1 p.m.

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 13, Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 20, at San Francisco, 8:30 p.m.

Week 16: Monday, Dec. 28, at Denver, 8:30 p.m.

Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 3, Baltimore, 1 p.m.