Year in and year out, the guys at Football Outsiders are some of the best in the business when it comes to projecting the NFL. They believe the Pittsburgh Steelers will win the AFC North by defeating the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17 to earn their first division title in four years.
As for who they'll face, FO projects the Baltimore Ravens beat out the San Diego Chargers for the sixth and final wild-card spot in the AFC. They project the Ravens to beat the Cleveland Browns in Week 17 in addition to the Chargers losing at Kansas City to allow Baltimore to pass them in the playoff standings.
If all of that is in fact how that playoffs shape out, it leaves the Bengals at the No. 5 seed heading to Indy for a rematch with the fifth-seeded Colts. The two played in Week 7 game the Colts won 27-0. However, Cincy has made significant improvements on both sides of the ball since then, while you can argue Indy has gotten worse on both sides.
Here's what they had to say on the AFC playoff picture:
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
Current record: 10-5 | Weighted DVOA: 13.4 percent (8)
Clinched playoffs | Super Bowl odds: 3.7 percent
That was a wonderful, impressive win by the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night, and it means the Bengals still currently hold on to the AFC North lead. But they have to be considered underdogs to win the game in Pittsburgh that will decide the division. They have to go on the road against a team that our DVOA ratings believe has played better football this year. It's an interesting matchup, as the Bengals have been an all-around average team while the Steelers are phenomenal on offense (second in DVOA, behind only Green Bay) and horrible on defense (30th). However, our playoff odds equation gives the Steelers a 69.1 percent chance to win this game, and thus the division.
5. Cincinnati Bengals
Current record: 10-4-1 | Weighted DVOA: 0.9 percent (15)
Clinched playoffs | Super Bowl odds: 1.5 percent
See Pittsburgh above. The Bengals have a small chance to finish with the No. 2 seed if they win and the Broncos lose to Oakland, but it is more likely that the winner of next Sunday night's regular-season finale will be seeded No. 3 while the loser is No. 5.
6. Baltimore Ravens
Current record: 9-6 | Weighted DVOA: 22.0 percent (5)
Total playoff odds: 54.8 percent | Super Bowl odds: 2.0 percent
San Diego currently holds the No. 6 seed in the AFC thanks to its head-to-head 34-33 win over Baltimore back in Week 13. If the Chargers can win in Kansas City, they will take the final AFC playoff spot. The problem is that this requires winning on the road against a Kansas City team that also still has a shot at the playoffs and is actually the superior team according to DVOA. (Kansas City is ninth in weighted DVOA, San Diego only 18th). The Chargers only win that game about one-third of the time in our simulations.
The Ravens, meanwhile, get a home game against a crumbling Cleveland team with huge quarterback issues. We have the Ravens winning that game 80.7 percent of the time, and that's enough to make Baltimore, not San Diego, the true favorite to win the final AFC playoff spot.