- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
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When the NFL's schedule was released a week ago, it was reported here and elsewhere that the Cincinnati Bengals were owners of the league's 23rd toughest slate.
Across the next three days, we'll show you why that may be a little misleading. The Bengals will have challenges in 2014. Don't let the previous win-loss records of the teams they will be facing fool you.
Hidden challenge: October could test the Bengals
Cincinnati's 2014 schedule only ranks where it does on the strength scale because the teams the Bengals are slated to play collectively performed so badly last season. Specifically, teams from the AFC South struggled. Only Indianapolis -- the team currently credited with having the weakest 2014 schedule -- had a winning record in the division. Jacksonville and Houston were the worst, finishing with four and two wins respectively last season. Both figure to improve this year, but neither is still expected to overtake the Colts and carry the division banner into the postseason.
Among the numerous potential pitfalls present in Cincinnati's schedule is a five-game stretch that covers the month of October. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bengals have the second-hardest October schedule, facing teams that went a combined 43-21 last season.
This will be the first time in four seasons that the Bengals have played four games in October, a month that can help teams build momentum as they hit the midpoint and start heading into the second half of the year. With a 4-1 record that included a pair of wins decided by game-winning field goals, the Bengals certainly were able to capitalize off a strong October in 2013. In 2012, they lost the only three games they had in the month. The year before that, they went 4-0.
Just like last October, the Bengals begin October 2014 with a contest against perennial Pro Bowler Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Cincinnati tip-toed by New England in the 2013 meeting, winning 13-6 thanks to a late-game Ohio rainstorm that made it difficult for Brady to pass and his receivers to see. When Bengals cornerback Adam Jones tipped up to himself a Brady pass that he intercepted with 16 seconds left, the win was iced.
This year's Week 5 tilt at New England comes on the heels of Cincinnati's Week 4 bye. After having their bye in Week 12 last season, the Bengals were given the earliest off week possible this year.
After facing the defending AFC East champion Patriots in a Sunday night game Oct. 5, the Bengals return home Oct. 12 for a game against Carolina, the defending NFC South champion. The Sunday after that, they travel up Interstate 74 to face the AFC South's likely repeat champ, Indianapolis. The Bengals then close out the month by returning home for the second game in eight weeks against Baltimore, the 2012 season's Super Bowl winner.
Yes, the most recent records of the opposing teams on Cincinnati's overall schedule may be favorable for the Bengals, but the October gauntlet is a clear sign that there are hidden challenges. If the Bengals can get out of October by going undefeated for the month or posting a 3-1 record, they could set themselves up quite well for a comparatively less intense November.