With the midpoint of the NFL regular season here, it looks as likely as ever that the Bengals will be in the playoffs once again.
In my previous post, I put the Bengals' magic number for clinching a playoff berth at nine wins. That looks even likelier thanks to the Dolphins' loss to the Patriots on Thursday night. That means the only teams even close to challenging Cincinnati for a playoff spot if they don't win the AFC North (and Pittsburgh does) are the 4-2 Jets and 3-3 Raiders, and Cincinnati already owns a head-to-head win over Oakland.
In other words, expect the Bengals to be in the playoffs, but the minimum goal for their postseason should be winning the AFC North. Entering Week 8, Cincinnati is already 2.5 games ahead of Pittsburgh for the division lead. That means the Bengals are guaranteed to be leading the AFC North for at least two more weeks, regardless of what happens in their next two games.
Looking at the remaining games to be played for the Bengals and Steelers, it's safe to say Cincinnati should be in good shape to remain on top of the division if they just keep playing up to their potential. Pittsburgh has home games vs the Browns, Bengals, Broncos, Colts, and Raiders with road games vs the Seahawks, Ravens, Browns, and Bengals. Those teams are a combined 32-27.
Cincinnati has homes games vs the Steelers, Browns, Ravens, Rams, and Texans with road games vs the 49ers, Steelers, Browns, Broncos, and Cardinals. Those teams are a combined 31-37.
Adding to that, Baltimore has already beaten the Steelers in Pittsburgh and host them again this season. Cincinnati won at Baltimore and host the Ravens to end the season. The Bengals also won a close game vs the Seahawks when they came to Cincinnati, but Pittsburgh has to go to Seattle when they face off.
Thanks to the Steelers winning the AFC North last year, they face the AFC South winner of last year, which is the Colts. The Bengals get to host the second-place team from that division this year when the Texans come to Cincinnati on Monday Night Football in Week 10.
Looking at the rest of the Steelers' schedule, it's hard to see them winning more than 11 games since they're sitting at 4-3 going into Week 8. That number drops to 10 if the Bengals win in Pittsburgh Sunday. Now that Pitt has Ben Roethlisberger back, it's hard to see them losing too many more games down the stretch, and the only games where they may be underdogs are at Seattle and at Cincinnati. The Denver game could go either way.
As for the Bengals, they should absolutely beat the Texans, Ravens, 49ers, and win at least one of the two matchups with the Browns. That's always a competitive rivalry in which, even in Cincinnati's best years, they've had trouble getting a sweep over their in-state rivals. The Rams game will be a tough one, but it is one that the Bengals will almost certainly be a favorite in.
Then there's two games against the Steelers, the first of which is this Sunday. If the Bengals win that matchup, I'll put the Bengals' magic number of clinching the AFC North at 10 wins. If they lose, 11 may be what they need to overcome Pittsburgh for the division.