2013 NFL Playoff Picture: Cincinnati Bengals maintain first place

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals are maintaining a lead in the AFC North, but that gap is slowly closing on the Bengals.

Had Cincinnati defeated Baltimore on Sunday, the Bengals would have secured a 2.5-game lead over the Cleveland Browns and Ravens and a 3.5-game lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers with six games remaining. Based on the Indianapolis Colts being thrashed by the St. Louis Rams, Cincinnati would have improved their playoff picture seeding to No. 3 (by winning percentage).

Instead, this fairy tale has turned into a nightmare as the gap between the Bengals and AFC North continues to close. Currently the Bengals have a 1.5-game lead over the Browns and Ravens, with a 1-2 record against the AFC North. Those tie-breakers are going to have a meaningful impact that won't be in Cincinnati's favor.

Yet October's four-game winning streak was significant enough due to the AFC north having played so poorly. Despite the Browns and Ravens recent improvements, the Bengals two-game slide hasn't knocked them out of first place. In fact, Cincinnati still can't lose first place next week when the Bengals host the Cleveland Browns.

It's a fragile state of mind as Cincinnati has limited momentum and a 1.5-game lead, but they have it. The question is, can they recover enough momentum to keep it and make the postseason. If the season were to end today, they'd host the 8-1 Denver Broncos.

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-0)
  2. New England Patriots (7-2)
  3. Indianapolis Colts (6-3)
  4. Cincinnati Bengals (6-4)
  5. Denver Broncos (8-1)
  6. New York Jets (5-4)

On the outside: Miami (4-4), Tennessee (4-5), San Diego (4-5), Cleveland (4-5), Baltimore (4-5).

In the NFC:

  1. Seattle Seahawks (9-1)
  2. New Orleans Saints (7-2)
  3. Detroit Lions (6-3)
  4. Dallas Cowboys (5-5)
  5. Carolina Panthers (6-3)
  6. San Francisco 49ers (6-3)
On the outside: Green Bay (5-4), Chicago (5-4), Arizona (5-4), Philadelphia (5-5).
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