Bengals: Week 15 Checklist to Make the Playoffs

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Sep 25, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) celebrates the touchdown scored by running back Jeremy Hill (32) against the Denver Broncos in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) celebrates the touchdown scored by running back Jeremy Hill (32) against the Denver Broncos in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /
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The 2016 season has brought the Bengals their worst record in recent memory. History would suggest a 5-7-1 team doesn’t have a chance at the playoffs. Yet, a glimmer of hope still remains for the Bengals. 

When teams with sub-par records make the playoffs, it’s usually because they’ve won a terrible division. Take the worst team ever to make the playoffs, the 7-8-1 2014 Carolina Panthers. The next best team in their division was the 7-9 New Orleans Saints. The other two were the 6-10 Falcons and the 2-14 Bucs. The Panther’s loss could have been a loss and they still would have made the playoffs as the four seed. The 2014 NFC South was simply a lackluster division.

While there is a route for the Bengals to make the playoffs through winning the AFC North this year, it isn’t likely. It would require the Browns to beat the Steelers, meaning the current division leaders would lose to an 0-14 team. That probably won’t happen. Big Ben owns the record for most wins in history at both Heinz Field and FirstEnergy stadium.  So, to say he’ll probably win this one would be an understatement.

Any hope Bengals’ fans have left should be attached to securing a Wildcard spot in this year’s playoffs. While it still isn’t likely and requires more than a few things to go their way, it’s still completely plausible the Bengals could make the playoffs this year. Here’s what needs to happen in Week 15 to keep hope alive….

Bengals Beat Steelers

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This one seems obvious. Any Bengals playoff scenario requires them winning out. This game will be their toughest challenge in the final 3-week stretch. The Steelers have been on a roll recently, and Le’Veon Bell is the man behind it all. He’s a versatile, do-it-all back who’s among the best players in the league. The Bengals could hardly control Isaiah Crowell last week, whose elusiveness is nowhere near the level of Bell’s. This and the pass rush could pose problems for Cincinnati.

While the odds may not be in their favor, the Bengals do have one thing going for them. Ben Roethlisberger has been awful on the road this year, never topping the 300-yard mark passing and often finding himself below 200. If the Bengals’ linebackers can control Pittsburgh tight end Ladarius Green, the Bengals should be able to put a lid on the Steelers’ passing game.

Jets Defeat Dolphins

Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

Besides Cincinnati getting the win at home, this is the most important game for the Bengals. The Dolphins are 8-5 thus far, and a win would give them an insurmountable 9-win record. Unfortunately, the Jets haven’t exactly been giant-slayers this season, and their measly four wins might suggest their best strategy would be to tank for the draft. But, luckily for Bengals fans, that isn’t all there is to the story.

After Ryan Tannehill‘s recent ACL sprain, the Dolphins have found themselves with only veteran Matt Moore to put under center, who hasn’t played a meaningful snap in five years. While the Jets have QB woes of their own, Todd Bowles may have his job on the line this week, so he’ll start whoever gives him the best chance to win. Both teams have stellar defenses, but the Jets’ slight edge in the secondary might earn them a win in this game.

Patriots Beat Broncos

This is another game the Bengals absolutely need to go one a certain way. Luckily, it isn’t all that unlikely. Tom Brady has quietly been having a career season after his “Deflategate” suspension, possibly putting him into MVP contention despite missing four games. While Rob Gronkowski is out for this one, the Patriots offense has been fine without him. Barring a Trevor Siemian ascension to greatness, the Bengals can feel comfortable that the Pats will get the win.

There are certainly other things the Bengals would like to fall into place this week, but most of them are either extremely unlikely and/or unnecessary (i.e. the Browns beat the Bills). The top of the AFC South also has to remain even in the next few weeks, but that won’t be decided this (or next) week alone. In general, as long as only one non-division winner has nine wins and the Bengals win out, Cincinnati secures a Wild Card berth.

Next: 3 Keys For A Win Over The Steelers

If you thought the Bengals’ days of tormenting of fans with close losses in heartbreaking fashion was over for the season, think again. This roller coaster is just getting started. The playoff dreams are still alive!

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