When Joe Burrow tore a ligament in his wrist in Week 11, all hope for a postseason seemed lost in the Queen City. In Week 12, the Cincinnati Bengals lost to another division rival (Steelers) with poor play on both sides of the ball.
Then in Week 13, Jake Browning emerged with an incredible game. He finished the game 32-of-37 for 354 yards with a touchdown and zero turnovers for a 115.5 passer rating and scored a rushing touchdown and a win.
The NFL world and Bengals fandom exploded. Cincy's playoff hopes are still alive and well! Those flames were only fanned harder after the Bengals beat the Colts on Sunday.
There is still a large hill to climb before the Bengals can punch their ticket to the postseason dance. Here are three factors that might prevent Cincinnati from making the playoffs for a third consecutive year.
Conference and Division record
When it comes to playoff tiebreakers, division and conference records are imperative. The Bengals' records in both are abysmal (0-4 in division and 3-6 in conference). When it comes to most tiebreakers, Cincy will surely lose.
These tiebreakers only come into play when more than two teams are involved or the two teams tied have not played each other. According to the NFL rules, after Head-to-Head, the division record is the tiebreaker for two teams and three or more teams.
Every other team in the AFC playoff picture has a head and shoulders better divisional record than Cincinnati. So if Cincy were to get one of the three wild card spots, it'll have to be due to other teams losing more games. In other words, the Bengals' playoff hopes are not in their hands and they need help.
The one thing that bodes well for our boys is that several of the AFC teams in the wild card hunt are also playing with backup quarterbacks (Steelers, Browns, and Colts, to name a few).
Bills and Broncos are playing their best football
One team that is not playing with a backup quarterback and is not looking to help Cincy make the playoffs is the Buffalo Bills. They lost back-to-back weeks against the Bengals and the late surging Broncos. Since they annihilated the Jets and almost beat the Eagles.
They have a ton of talent on the Bills roster. So even though they're sitting at 11th in the AFC playoff picture, they have the talent and experience to turn it around and even make a deep playoff run.
The thing that could stop the Bills is their schedule. After the Chiefs game, they have to play Dallas and Miami. They also have the Chargers and division-rival Patriots. Though the Pats are garbage, division games are always tough.
As stated before, given the experience and talent in Buffalo, don't bet against them till it's over.
The Broncos are also surging. They look like the Broncos everyone expected when Sean Peyton took the reigns in Denver. In their last six games, they're 5-1 with Russell Wilson looking like the chef we remember from Seattle and their defense balling out the Broncos could snatch a wildcard spot late in the season.
However, Denver's division and conference records are not stellar which could help Cincy. But, as bad as they are the Broncos records are still better than Cincinnati's.
Bengals defense has been far from perfect
According to Fox Sports, the Bengals are ranked in the bottom half in every team defense statistic. These stats are through 13 weeks and do not include the Colts game. The Bengals were dead last in Yards Per Game at 388.2 yards, before their win this weekend.
The Bengals are 27th in passing yards per game and rushing yards per game. Cincy is 22nd in scoring defense. The most promising stat is red zone defense at 17th, which is still bottom half of the league. So, not great.
Everyone is excited about Jake Browning. Rightfully so, as he has more than surprised the world and proved they can win with him. But unfortunately, a big issue with Cincy all season is still there, the defense.
They can make plays in important moments, which sometimes is all you need. However, because they're relying on a backup quarterback to get into the playoffs the defense will need to perfect for this to be accomplished.
It's a large ask for a unit that hasn't played well all season. They've been looking better, but can this crew keep it up for the next four weeks?