Nov 29, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard (25) carries the ball in the first half against the St. Louis Rams at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
The Cincinnati Bengals are 9-2 after beating the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. Because the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Seattle Seahawks, it’s time to take a look at Cincinnati’s playoff scenarios.
With a 31-7 trouncing of the St. Louis Rams, the Cincinnati Bengals have taken a commanding lead in the AFC North. And with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ loss in Seattle, the Steelers are now three games back on the Bengals. It would take a near-miracle for the Steelers to somehow come back on the Bengals at this point, so it’s time to take a look at scenarios for how the Bengals would make the playoffs and how they would win the division.
To Clinch a Playoff Berth
- Win two games
The Bengals really don’t have to do much in order to clinch a playoff berth. All they need to do is win two games. There are also several scenarios in which Cincinnati could win just one game and still earn a playoff nod, but those are far too complex to dive into at this point of the season.
In the scenario that Cincinnati only wins two of its remaining games–at Cleveland in Week 13 at San Francisco in Week 15 (the two wins that would give the Bengals the lowest possible advantage towards a tiebreaker), Cincinnati would still end up a playoff seeding, even if the Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets all won out.
There’s also a scenario where all the Bengals have to do is win this week and get a little help from their friends.
- CIN win + HOU loss or tie + IND loss or tie + NYJ loss as long as IND and HOU both don’t tie
- CIN win + HOU loss or tie + IND loss or tie + DEN win or tie + KC loss as long as IND and HOU both don’t tie
To Clinch the AFC North
- Beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 14
Yep, that’s all it takes. If the Bengals manage to take down the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium in Week 14, the division is theirs–even if Cincinnati loses out and Pittsburgh wins out for the remainder of the season.
- Win 3 remaining games
It doesn’t matter who they win against–as long as the Bengals win three of their remaining games, the Bengals will host at least one playoff game and earn the title of AFC North Champions.
- Beat the Cleveland Browns in Week 13 and the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17
Even if the Bengals lost to the Steelers, they could still win the division by simply beating the two worst teams in the AFC North–two teams that are among the worst of all teams in the NFL.
- Steelers lose two games–as long as at least one of those two losses is against an AFC North team
If Pittsburgh manages to lose two games, the Bengals will be the AFC North champions once again. The Steelers play the Baltimore Ravens in Week 16 and the Cleveland Browns in Week 17. If Pittsburgh lost one of those two games, along with any other game on its schedule, Cincinnati would win the AFC North.
The only scenario in which this does not work is if the Steelers’ two losses come against the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos. If Pittsburgh lost those two games and won out, and the Bengals lost every remaining game, the Steelers would win the AFC North.
The Bengals are still in the mix for a first-round playoff bye, and they could even challenge the New England Patriots for the first seed in the AFC if things manage to go Cincinnati’s way. But with so many possible scenarios and so much time left in the season, let’s save these scenarios for another time.