How the Cincinnati Bengals can earn top AFC playoff seed

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Nov 29, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) carries the ball in the first half against the St. Louis Rams at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Scenario 3: Bengals lose to Broncos, still get top seed

ESPN‘s 2015 NFL Playoff Machine gives us thousands of ways to predict the league’s playoff picture.

Playing devil’s advocate, I was able to find a way for the Bengals to earn the AFC’s top seed with as low as a 10-5-1 record.

Predicting New England and Denver to undergo massively unprecedented chaos, however, would be reckless. So with that, here’s a slightly more realistic scenario.

  1. The Cincinnati Bengals lose to the Denver Broncos
    • Denver would have the head-to-head advantage over Cincinnati if this were to happen
  2. The Cincinnati Bengals win the rest of their remaining games
    • The Bengals will need to beat the Browns, Steelers, 49ers and Ravens. The games against Cleveland and San Francisco are on the road, while the matchups with Pittsburgh and Baltimore are home games.
  3. The Denver Broncos lose one game
    • The loss could come to any of the remaining teams on Denver’s schedule
    • Denver has games at San Diego, vs. Oakland, at Pittsburgh and vs. San Diego
  4. The Denver Broncos lose or tie a second game
    • Like the first loss, the second loss/tie could come against any team on Denver’s schedule.
  5. The New England Patriots lose at least two conference games
    • Neither of the Patriots’ two losses could come against the Philadelphia Eagles
    • If the Patriots and Bengals finished the season with the same record but one of the Patriots’ losses came to the Eagles, New England would hold the tiebreaker over Cincinnati.

If Cincinnati loses the matchup with Denver, the Bengals will need to end the season with a better winning percentage than Denver.

Whether that is by earning the same amount of wins and tying rather than losing a game or just winning more total games, Cincinnati would need help from Denver to earn the AFC’s top seed. Cincinnati could still hold the AFC’s top seed with a loss to Denver, even if it has the same winning percentage as the New England Patriots.

Next: Cincinnati Bengals: Week 13 Playoff Scenarios

These are a few of thousands of possible outcomes to the 2015 season. It’s likely that none of these scenarios happen exactly the way that I described. Regardless, it’s fun to speculate. Keep an eye out on Cincinnati to see whether the Bengals can lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.