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Exploring how many wins Bengals need for playoff bye

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With the Bengals at 8-0 and the Patriots, and Broncos sitting at 7-0 with a chance to join the eight win club this weekend, three teams have emerged atop the AFC standings. Unfortunately only the top two seeds will receive a playoff bye. Something has to give.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Playoffs? We're talking about the playoffs? Yes. The Bengals are in new and exciting 8-0 territory. So let the post-season musings commence.

With the Bengals sitting at 8-0 and the, Patriots, and Broncos at 7-0, three teams have emerged atop the AFC standings. Unfortunately only the top two seeds will receive a playoff bye.

The Broncos play both the Patriots and Bengals, so ultimately at least one of the three undefeated teams in the AFC will end up with a loss. And with only two teams in NFL history ever finishing the regular season undefeated, it’s highly likely that all three teams will lose at least once by the end of the regular season.

So how many wins does an AFC team need to target to comfortably receive a first round bye in the playoffs?

Since the NFL created four divisions and each conference back in 2002, the teams with the top two records in each conference have received a bye in the first round of the playoffs. With this in mind, we look back and see how many wins it took to get these byes.

The top two seeds received the byes. The third seed missed out on a bye.

AFC #1 seed AFC #2 seed AFC #3 seed
Max Wins 16 14 12
Average Wins 13.5 12.5 11.5
Min Wins 11 11 10

Several important numbers emerge here.

13
Every team who has won 13 games since 2002 has fared no worse than the #2 seed, and earned a playoff bye.

12
12 wins is the plateau where teams are essentially assured of a playoff spot. Every team with 12 wins has reached the playoffs. But in 8 of 13 seasons, a team with 12 wins had to play in the opening round of the playoffs. So, while 12 wins gets you into the playoffs, it does not assure you of a bye.

11
Once, back in 2002, all it took was 11 wins to secure the top overall seed. But every year since then, it took at least 12 wins to get the second playoff bye. Not every team to win 11 games has made the playoffs. 11 is that territory where you deserve a playoff spot, but are not guaranteed a playoff spot.

What it all mean?

With these numbers in mind, it would seem that 13 wins is the magical number. Win 13 games and you should (based on historical records) fare no worse than the second playoff bye.

This means that the Bengals, Patriots, and Broncos are in a race to finish the year at least 6-3, which would give them a 13-3 record, and a bye in the first round of the playoffs. A problem arises is all three teams that are currently undefeated end up with records that are 13-3 or better. It's a possibility and could create a unique playoff scenario this season.