Right now the Bengals are holding firm with the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC right behind the Steelers, who hold the fifth. That doesn't mean that the Bengals are guaranteed a spot in the post season or that they can hold off some of the teams that are nipping at their heals. The strength of schedule remaining for some of the hopeful playoff teams could have a lot to do with whether they make it into the post season or not.
Here's the strength of schedule for the Bengals and the other teams that have a shot at getting into the playoffs in the AFC.
We'll start with the Bengals:
The record of the teams the Bengals have left to play is 30-25 (.545). They not only face the Steelers and Ravens again but they play the Texans, who have the No. 1 seed in the AFC right now. They also play the Rams and Cardinals. The Bengals will likely need to win three of their last five games to have a shot at the playoffs and a win over the Steelers would really take a lot of pressure off of them.
The Steelers have the No. 5 seed, one of the two wildcard spots, in the AFC right now. The record of the teams they have left to play is 26-29 (.473). They host the Bengals this weekend and play the 49ers but other than that, they play the Browns twice and the Rams. If they beat the Bengals this weekend and move through the Browns and the Rams like they should, they should be a lock for the playoffs. Even if they lose to the Bengals and the 49ers, they're likely in.
Of all AFC North teams, the Ravens have the easiest remaining schedule. The teams they have left to play have a combined record of 19-36 (.345). They play the Browns twice, the winless Colts, the Chargers and their last game is against the Bengals. Being undefeated in the AFC North is huge for the Ravens and as long as they win the games they should, they should win the division. Right now they hold the third seed but if losing Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart hurts the Texans as much as many believe it will, they could move into one of the top two seeds.
There is no team that threatens the Bengals playoff hopes like the Broncos do. The Broncos beat the Bengals in Week 2 so they have the tie breaker. The Broncos also have an easier schedule than the Bengals do. Their opponents have a combined schedule of 26-29 (.473) and all it will take is for the Broncos to continue winning like they have been in the last few weeks and for the Bengals to slip up just once for them to take the Bengals playoff spot. However, if the Broncos, who face the Vikings, Bears, Patriots, Bills and Chiefs, lose more than they win in the last five weeks of the season, they're out.
The Jets are right behind the Broncos in the playoff picture but they have possibly the easiest remaining schedule. The teams they have left to play have a combined record of 21-34 (.382). They face the Redskins, Chiefs, Eagles, Giants and Dolphins in the last five weeks of the season and it's not crazy to think that they'll win out. If they do, they still wouldn't win the division (the Patriots still have an easy remaining schedule and they'll likely win the division) but they could take the Bengals' wild card spot. The only reason they're sitting behind the Broncos right now is because they lost in Denver in Week 11.
The Titans are also sitting with a 6-5 record and the combined record of the teams left on their schedule is 24-31 (.436). The Bengals hold the tie breaker over the Titans as they defeated them on the road in Week 9. The Titans still have to face the Saints and it's likely that their best chance to make the playoffs is to take care of business on their end and hope that the Texans start to lose due to their quarterback situation so they can win the division.