The preseason is a time of optimism. In keeping with that, here are some optimistic predictions for the Bengals’ upcoming season:

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Getty Images

Prediction 1: Joe Mixon becomes the go-to back by the end of the season

Teams don’t draft running backs in the second round to serve on the scout team or Gatorade guarding duty. Mixon is a special player, who’s capable of contributing right away. The timing is perfect for him too as Giovani Bernard recovers and the team relies on Jeremy Hill in short-yardage situations.

The X-factor: The offensive line. There’s been much concern over the inconsistency of the line. At the same time, it doesn’t mean this unit cannot develop the unity needed to become at least consistent. And if this happens, Andy Dalton has the time to find his skill players which will help to open up the ground game. Enter Mixon, a player with the versatility and athleticism to take advantage of those opportunities.

Prediction 2: Bengals make the playoffs as a wildcard

Baltimore is on the verge of being good; Pittsburgh is the favorite to win the division and rightly so while Cleveland is in that holding pattern indicative of teams building for the future. Simply, the Bengals play in a highly competitive division where finishing third doesn’t seem like a stretch. Then, when you factor in the Bengals play the Broncos, Packers, and all the teams in the AFC South—which might be the most competitive division, that’s a tough slate.

The X-factor: Playing the best elevates competition. Having that experience against some of the league’s best teams provides the young Bengals with confidence. And that confidence could go a long way, especially at the end of the season when they travel to Baltimore for what could be a game with a wild-card berth at stake.

Vontaze Burfict had 15 tackles and two interceptions in Cincinnati’s 32-14 win over Philadelphia last December. (Photo: USA Today)

Prediction 3: The Bengals win a playoff game

There’s no team more dangerous than one with a ton of momentum finishing the regular season, which is likely what the Bengals need to earn a playoff berth. The combination of young talent and maturity at key positions means the Bengals have the talent and experience to break the curse of Bo.

The X-factor: Remaining healthy.