The Upshot, founded in April, has been used by the Times for predicting the recent 2014 U.S. midterm elections, and is now being used to estimate the playoff odds for each NFL team. Each time The Upshot simulator is refreshed, it performs 36,000 new simulations for the Bengals before tonight's game against the Broncos. I refreshed it quite a few times, and all of the results came in between about 92% likely to about 95% likely.
Here's an example simulation by The Upshot, in which it gives the Bengals approximately a 94% chance:
The Upshot gives the Bengals a 6% chance to not make the playoffs at all. Firstly, this would require the Bengals losing out. Secondly, this would require the Chargers and Ravens both winning, over the Chiefs and Browns respectively.
It gives the Bengals a 44% chance to be a wild-card team, including a 12% chance to be a 6-seed and a 32% chance to be a 5-seed. The 6-seed would mean losing out, but still getting in because either the Chargers or Ravens lose. The 5-seed has two paths. The first path would be beating the Broncos, but losing at the Steelers. The second (and less-likely path) would be the Chargers and Ravens both losing despite the Bengals losing out.
The Bengals' overall playoff odds significantly increased, from about 75% to 90+%, due to the losses by the Chiefs, Ravens, and Bills on Sunday. If the Bengals were to lose out now, they would have approximately a 74% chance of making the playoffs. If those teams had won, then this percentage would be zero. (Of course, if not for the 49ers' horrendous meltdown, then it would be 100%.)
It gives the Bengals a 50% chance to be AFC North champions, including a 12% chance to be a 4-seed, a 26% chance to be a 3-seed, and a 12% chance to be a 2-seed with a first-round bye. The 4-seed would mean losing to the Broncos and beating the Steelers, and the Colts beating the Titans.
The 3-seed has two paths. The first path would be winning out, and the Broncos beating the Raiders. The second (and less-likely path) would be losing to the Broncos and beating the Steelers, and the Colts losing to the Titans.
The Bengals getting a 2-seed would require the Bengals to win out, as well as the Broncos to lose at home to the Raiders. It sounds far-fetched, but considering the Raiders beat the Bills yesterday, perhaps a 12% chance is about right.
The Bengals are 3-point underdogs against the Broncos, according to the latest betting odds. As of now, the Bengals are also 3-point underdogs against the Steelers, the Chargers are 2.5-point underdogs against the Chiefs, and the Ravens are 8.5-point favorites against the Browns.
Based on historical results from these point spreads, the Broncos and Steelers each have about a 60% chance to win, the Chargers have about a 45% chance to win, and the Ravens have about an 80% chance to win.
Multiplying these probabilities together and subtracting from 1, there is approximately an 87% chance the Bengals will make the playoffs, according to betting odds. Vegas agrees with The Upshot that the Bengals' chances of making the playoffs are high.
Last month, The Upshot had its very first major predictions: the U.S. Senate elections. Out of 36 U.S. Senate elections, The Upshot correctly predicted the results for 35 of them, the lone incorrect prediction being North Carolina (it predicted Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan to win, and not Republican candidate Thom Tillis who was the actual winner). The Upshot was about 97% correct overall, not entirely perfect, but still quite reliable.
While the Bengals cannot feel safe about their prospects just yet, especially considering both of their next two games are in primetime, they are in an overall favorable situation and there is little reason to not be optimistic at this point.