This started as a fan-comment and then became way too long (take note all you long comment posters - nobody wants to read a full-length article in the comments section). Anyways, I thought I'd take an early look at the playoff picture in the AFC. Sure, the Bengals are a long-shot to make the playoffs right now, but there might be more hope than you would think.
Just look at the teams ahead of us.
Miami, San Diego, Pittsburgh, and Indy. Two of those teams we are going to face on our remaining games (San Diego and Pit), which gives the Bengals a chance right off the bat.
Miami (4-5) doesn't really look like a contender after getting trounced by the Titans, and they still have to play New England (twice), San Fran, and Seattle, so I'd say they are the longest shot to make it. 7-9 is a hopeful projection for them. I'd give them a 10% chance.
San Diego (4-5) has a tough road ahead as well. They've got Denver, Baltimore, the Bengals and Pittsburgh for their next four games. I'd put them in the 25% range of being in the playoffs, because they have a possible road to winning the division.
Pitt (6-3) was looking tough, but they just lost Ben (hopefully for a couple weeks). Sure they can win without him, but their odds go way down, especially playing Baltimore twice in the next three weeks. Since they've built up such a nice lead, they still probably have the best shot. I'd give Pitt a 60%. of making it at this point.
Indy (6-3) has looked good lately, but the competition hasn't been tough either. They squeaked by Cle, Ten, and Mia before beating up on Jacksonville. They've still got the Pats, two games against Houston, and a middle of the road Detroit team. With a two game lead however, they also have a good shot at getting in. I'd put them at 50%
And then there's the Bengals (4-5). Their only game left versus an elite team is Baltimore in week 17, but the Ravens could be packing it in by that point. The Bengals don't have as many cake-walk games however. Oakland and KC aren't good teams, but Philly and Dallas are dangerous regardless of what their record says. Of the two, Dallas is probably the bigger threat, especially if Vick is pulled as a starter in Philly. They have to go at least 3-2 against these teams.
The Chargers game is a must-win. They are dangerous in December, but they also have the feel of a team that's falling apart (Norv always looks like he just went on a bender in his post-game interview). Still, it won't be an easy out, especially playing in San Diego.
And then of course the Pitt game is another must win. Assuming Ben is back and they've lost a couple without him, this game could possibly determine the playoff race (even if the Bengals aren't in the race at that point). Going into Heinz is never easy, but Andy Cool-Fire Dalton will at least be give them a chance.
I'd put the Bengals chance of getting in about 20%. A 9 win season (5-2 the rest of the way) could get them in. Looking at tie breakers this early doesn't mean much, but as they stand right now, that's probably not good enough. Getting to 10 wins requires them going 6-1. I don't see that happening, but maybe if they played every game like they did last week...well, let's just watch and see.