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NFL Playoff Picture: Bengals secure AFC North, Jets rise, Steelers out of seeding

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If the Bengals win Monday night, they'll get a first-round bye in the NFL playoffs. However, a loss means they'll likely be playing in the Wild Card round with possibly the New York Jets coming to Paul Brown Stadium.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL postseason is less than two weeks away, but there's still a lot left to be decided as far as the AFC playoff picture goes.

For the Cincinnati Bengals, it's fairly simple: Beat the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football, and clinch at least the AFC's No. 2 overall seed and a first-round bye. A win also keeps the Bengals' hopes alive for the No. 1 seed, thanks to the New England Patriots losing to the New York Jets on Sunday. That puts the Bengals and Pats in a temporary tie in the loss column, which means there's still a glimmer of hope that Cincinnati can win the top seed and host a Divisional Round playoff game and then possibly an AFC Championship.

However, it's going to be tough for the Bengals to overcome the Patriots for the top seed. They'd have to win out and the Patriots would need to lose to the 5-10 Miami Dolphins next week. New England holds a narrow lead in the Strength of Schedule and Strength of Victory tiebreakers with the Bengals.

Don't hold your breath there. Miami is a mess and is just waiting for the season to end, but then again, rivalries can bring out the best in teams. Just look at what the lowly Baltimore Ravens did, pulling off the biggest upset of the season by knocking off the Pittsburgh Steelers and possibly ending their playoff hopes.

Speaking of, that loss now puts the Jets in line to be the No. 6 seed in the playoffs if they beat the Buffalo Bills next week. If the Bengals were to lose to the Broncos and not secure the No. 2 seed, they could wind up as the No. 3 seed, and host the Jets in the Wild Card round. I'm sure we can agree New York is less intimidating than Pittsburgh, especially with a Bengals team that's going to win more with defense for as long as Andy Dalton is out and AJ McCarron is in.

Now back to seeding. If the Bengals lose to the Broncos Monday night, the process becomes much more complicated. Then they'll need to beat the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17 while also having the Broncos lose at home to the 3-12 San Diego Chargers in order to earn the No. 2 seed and that much-needed bye week.

At this point, it's very likely either the No. 2 or 3 seed goes to the Bengals with the Jets being the most likely opponent if it's the three seed. However, one mustn't sleep on Buffalo having a part to play in this playoff picture. The Bills have already gone into New York and roughed up the Jets this season, a game in which Buffalo led 22-3 before holding on for a 22-17 win.

Are we to suddenly think Buffalo won't be able to do what Baltimore did and damage their division rival's playoff hopes? New York might not even be favored against the Bills in Buffalo. That means the Bengals shouldn't be surprised if it ends up being the Steelers who claim the No. 6 seed and play the No. 3 seed during Wild Card weekend.

Here's the current AFC standings heading into Monday Night Football.

W

L

T

PCT

DIV

CONF

SOS

SOV

REASON

1* - Patriots

12

3

0

.800

4-1

9-2

.471

.441

AFC East Champ

2z - Bengals

11

3

0

.786

4-1

8-2

.467

.412

AFC North Champ

3 - Broncos

10

4

0

.714

3-2

6-4

.502

.483

AFC West Champ

4 - Texans

8

7

0

.533

4-1

6-5

.509

.429

AFC South Champ

5x - Chiefs

10

5

0

.667

4-1

9-2

.493

.423

Wins tie break over NY Jets based on best win percentage in conference games.

6 - Jets

10

5

0

.667

3-2

7-4

.438

.389

--

7 - Steelers

9

6

0

.600

2-3

6-5

.532

.496

--

8 - Raiders

7

8

0

.467

3-2

7-4

.498

.375

Wins tie break over Buffalo and Indianapolis based on best win percentage in conference games.

9 -  Bills

7

8

0

.467

3-2

6-5

.502

.400

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

10 - Colts

7

8

0

.467

3-2

5-6

.518

.433

--

11 -  Jaguars

5

10

0

.333

2-3

5-6

.467

.360

Wins tie break over Miami and Baltimore based on head-to-head sweep.

12 - Dolphins

5

10

0

.333

0-5

3-8

.455

.400

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

13 - Ravens

5

10

0

.333

3-2

4-7

.489

.427

--

14 - Chargers

4

11

0

.267

0-5

3-8

.509

.317

--

15 - Browns

3

12

0

.200

1-4

2-9

.532

.267

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

16 -  Titans

3

12

0

.200

1-4

1-10

.493

.378

--

GLOSSARY
  • W: Wins
  • L: Losses
  • T: Ties
  • PCT: Winning Percentage
  • DIV: Division Record
  • CONF: Conference Record
  • SOS: Strength of Schedule
  • SOV: Strength of Victory
  • REASON: Conference rank reason
  • Z: Clinched Division
  • X: Clinched Playoff Berth
  • *: Clinched Division and Bye