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NFL Playoff Picture: Bengals hold onto #2 seed in AFC standings

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The Bengals and Broncos are now likely fighting it out for that No. 2 seed behind the Patriots, though there's still a lot of time for things to change.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Losing stinks, but the Bengals shouldn't feel too bad after losing at home to the Texans on Monday night.

After all, they're still firmly in control of the AFC North with seven games left in the regular season. Going into Week 10, Cincinnati had a 3.5-game lead over the Steelers for first place in the division, that's now down to 2.5 games. That's still a significant lead now that we've passed the halfway point of the regular season and Pittsburgh still has to come to Cincinnati.

There's simply no reason the Bengals should not win the AFC North outside of an onslaught of injuries happening over the coming weeks. That means we should expect the Bengals to be hosting at least one playoff game when the postseason rolls around.

In fact, we should also expect the Bengals to have a first-round bye the way the rest of the AFC is shaping up. Looking at Denver right now, they're the only team really in contention with the Bengals for the second bye, assuming the Patriots win the No. 1 seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

As bad as the Bengals looked offensively Monday night, Denver looked infinitely worse Sunday as they were dominated at home by the Chiefs. Peyton Manning finished the game completing 5-of-20 passes with four interceptions. He was flat-out horrendous and was benched in the third quarter in favor of Brock Osweiler, who proceeded to complete 14-of-24 passes for 146 yards with one score and one pick.

It wasn't great by any means, but he looked significantly better than Manning, who simply looks like he should have retired this past offseason. Manning is now up to an NFL-high 17 interceptions with just nine passing scores in nine games. It turns out he's dealing with a tear in his plantar fascia, the kind of injury that will likely linger through the rest of this season.

Simply put, the Broncos are a mess offensively and should not be able to pass Cincinnati for that second bye as long as the Bengals take care of business. That said, the Bengals need to do their best to have at least a two-game lead over Denver for that No. 2 seed when they square off on Monday Night Football in Week 16. After watching how much Cincinnati struggled against Houston's defense in primetime, I shudder to think what they'll look like against that vaunted Broncos defense.

With that said, here's a look at the latest AFC playoff picture and breakdown, via ESPN:

W

L

PCT

CONF

SOS

REASON

1 Patriots

9

0

1.000

6-0

.458

AFC East Champ

2 Bengals

8

1

.889

7-1

.398

AFC North Champ

3 Broncos

7

2

.778

4-2

.427

AFC West Champ

4 Colts

4

5

.444

4-3

.585

AFC South Champ
Wins tie break over Houston based on head-to-head win.

5 Steelers

6

4

.600

3-4

.495

--

6 Bills

5

4

.556

5-3

.537

Wins tie break over New York Jets based on head-to-head win.

7 Jets

5

4

.556

4-3

.476

--

8 Chiefs

4

5

.444

3-2

.622

Wins tie break over Miami based on best win percentage in conference games. Wins tie break over Houston based on head-to-head sweep. Division tie break was initially used to eliminate Oakland (Kansas City wins tie break over Oakland based on best win percentage in common games).
Wins tie break over Oakland based on best win percentage in common games.

9 Raiders

4

5

.444

4-3

.518

Wins tie break over Miami and Houston based on best win percentage in conference games.

10 Dolphins

4

5

.444

2-5

.506

Wins tie break over Houston based on head-to-head win percentage.

11 Texans

4

5

.444

3-3

.543

--

12 Jaguars

3

6

.333

3-4

.568

--