NFL Playoff Picture: Bengals slide into number three seed

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals took care of business at home against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. Unfortunately, so did the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots, if only barely.

Heading into Sunday's game, the Cincinnati Bengals held the No. 4 seed readying to host the Indianapolis Colts, who had an identical 8-4 record as the Bengals.

By defeating the Colts 42-28 at Paul Brown Stadium, the Cincinnati Bengals improve their overall record to 9-4 with the Colts falling to 8-5. The win slides Cincinnati into the No. 3 seed, virtually taking a 1.5-game lead over the Colts for the third seed (Cincinnati claims the head-to-head tiebreaker so the Colts need to win more games than the Bengals).

That much is certain.

The questions that remained asked if the Bengals could move into the second seed and/or extend their lead in the AFC North by three games.

Had the Cleveland Browns beat the New England Patriots, it would have moved Cincinnati into the second seed (due to the Bengals owning the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Patriots).

For a moment, it seemed probable -- if we were talking about any other team.

Cleveland actually took a 26-14 lead with 2:39 remaining in the game. Tom Brady and the Patriots moved the ball 82 yards on 11 plays in 1:38 to score a touchdown (failed two-point conversion) to reduce Cleveland's lead, 26-21.

New England attempted and recovered an onside and a questionable pass interference call later put the Patriots at the Browns one-yard line. Brady hit Danny Amendola on a quick one-yard out to beat the Browns 27-26. Cleveland nearly recovered, but Billy Cundiff's 58-yard field goal attempt fell short.

No second seed this week.

Cincinnati still had an opportunity to take a three-game lead over the Baltimore Ravens, if Minnesota can beat the Ravens in Baltimore. I know, long shot. But it was a wild one.

Vikings running back Toby Gerhart scored on a 41-yard touchdown run to take a 19-15 lead with 1:27 remaining in the fourth. Jacoby Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 77 yards for a touchdown, reclaiming the lead for Baltimore, 22-19. After two incomplete passes, Matt Cassel connects on a short pass to Cordarrelle Patterson, who evades the Ravens defense and sprints 79 yards for the touchdown to give the Vikings a 26-22 lead with 45 seconds remaining.

With a little help from a Chad Greenway defensive pass interference, the Ravens go 71 yards to the Vikings nine-yard line with nine seconds remaining when Joe Flacco hit Marlon Brown at the back of the endzone for a game-winning touchdown, giving the Ravens the 29-26 win.

Still a two-game lead in the AFC North.

Now the New England Patriots can claim the No. 1 seed if the Broncos lose to the Tennessee Titans later on Sunday afternoon. Additionally, based on that scenario, if the Patriots, Broncos, and Chiefs all lose next week, the Bengals will slide into the No. 1 seed if the Bengals beat the Steelers on Sunday Night Football. Perhaps we're a bit ahead of ourselves.

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