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PFF’s AFC projection has good news, bad for Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals fans looking for a reason to be optimistic about the 2017 season won’t find it at Pro Football Focus this week.

PFF’s projected AFC standings have coach Marvin Lewis’ team improving, but almost literally as little as possible without staying at the same level as last season.

RELATED: Takeaways from Bengals offseason workouts

In results published this week, the site sees the Bengals finishing 10th in the AFC with a 7-9 record. In 2016, Cincinnati was 12th in the conference after going 6-9-1.

PFF’s reasoning:

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The Bengals had their worst season in six years in 2016. A big part of the problem was key injuries, including A.J. Green missing the last several games of the season. His 2.86 yards per route run last year was a rate bested by only Julio Jones. While his return is a reason to believe they can do better, their losses on the offensive line suggest they won’t. Andrew Whitworth had the top pass-blocking efficiency for tackles, and Kevin Zeitler was in the top five for guards, and both are in new homes. Andy Dalton’s adjusted completion percentage of 60.6 was tied for fourth-worst for quarterbacks, so Cincinnati may be seeing its second straight season without the playoffs.

This is pretty reasonable given how the offseason has played out.

The return of Green and tight end Tyler Eifert should bolster the offense, but a lot is riding on young, highly drafted offensive tackles Jake Fischer and Cedric Ogbuehi to step up and have strong seasons, not to mention free-agent signee Andre Smith at guard.

Draft picks John Ross and Joe Mixon are intriguing new toys for Dalton, but it’s hard to anticipate what any rookie will do, and he won’t be able to use them much if he spends too much time running for his life. 

Meanwhile, PFF projects the Pittsburgh Steelers to finish second in the conference after losing to New England in the AFC championship game last season.

Baltimore is seen slipping from 8-8 to 6-10 while the Cleveland Browns jump from winning one game to four and passing the New York Jets to move out of the conference basement.

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