NFL PLAYOFF PICTURE: The Bengals return for the postseason race

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

We take a look at what to expect this week, NFL playoff seeding scenarios and how the Bengals can be a No. 2 seed this time next week.

It's back to routine.

Rested (and hopefully healthy) players return to work for a Monday morning practice as the Bengals prepare for a five-game stretch run to claim the AFC North title (and a first-round bye as icing on the cake). Players will be off on Tuesday (as per their usual routine) and return to work on Wednesday with pressers scheduled with head coach Marvin Lewis, quarterback Andy Dalton and the San Diego Chargers.

We're looking for players like linebacker Rey Maualuga and Devon Still to return from their respective injuries, and for the Bengals offense to resolve their recent struggles since Thursday Night's loss against the Miami Dolphins. Everyone has a theory, someone to blame, but the fact is Cincinnati remains two games over the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens with a Bengals defense viciously carrying everyone on their shoulders.

WEEK 13 AT SAN DIEGO: The Bengals resume their schedule after a week 12 bye week in San Diego, where they haven't lost since 2009, including Cincinnati's 20-13 win last year. The Bengals were facing a 10-7 deficit early in the second quarter after Demorrio Williams returned an interception 31 yards for a touchdown. Cincinnati would eventually score ten points in the fourth quarter and Cincinnati's defense forced a fumble (Carlos Dunlap) and an interception (Reggie Nelson) to seal the victory.

San Diego snapped a three-game losing streak (overtime loss to the Washington Redskins, Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins) on Sunday with a dramatic last-second touchdown throw from Philip Rivers that dropped Kansas City for only the second time this year. It was the first win for the Chargers for over a calendar month.

SEED UPDATE

Due to New England's win over the Denver Broncos Sunday Night, the Cincinnati Bengals remain as the fourth seed heading into week 13. I know it's early and some ask, why does this matter now? It doesn't. Some people like it and it's their prerogative to enjoy the idle conversation. The standings as they stand today.

  1. Denver Broncos (9-2)
  2. New England Patriots (8-3)
  3. Indianapolis Colts (7-4)
  4. Cincinnati Bengals (7-4)
  5. Kansas City Chiefs (9-2)
  6. Tennessee Titans (5-6)
  7. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-6)
  8. Baltimore Ravens (5-6)
  9. San Diego Chargers (5-6)
  10. New York Jets (5-6)
  11. Miami Dolphins (5-6)
The Colts currently own the only applicable tiebreaker against Cincinnati with a better conference record. Both teams will meet on Dec. 8.

SEED SCENARIOS IN WEEK 13

There are several critical match-ups this weekend with significant playoff implications. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens play the Thanksgiving nightcap this Thursday. The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs are scheduled for a rematch at Arrowhead Stadium for what could be the AFC West title (especially if the Broncos win to complete the sweep).

If the Broncos, Patriots (who play the Texans), Colts (who play the Titans), and Bengals all win this weekend, there won't be any changes. However, if the Patriots and Colts lose, the Bengals slide into the No. 2 seed and a first-week bye by virtue of Cincinnati's week five win over New England.

On the other hand, if the Bengals lose, they'll have lost a game in the division with a definite winner coming out of the Ravens and Steelers game.

We're hitting the stretch where every game has huge implications for the Bengals. Continue to win and those destinies are controlled. Lose and everything that worked in the first half of the season unravels.

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