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NFL playoff picture heading into Week 15 with Steelers in control of AFC North

After the Ravens’ loss on Monday night to the Patriots, the Bengals remain in mathematical contention for the AFC North crown. Though, logically speaking, it’s highly unlikely to happen.

San Diego Chargers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Ravens looked like an average team in their loss to the Patriots on Monday Night Football. And as such, the 5-7-1 Bengals are mathematically still in the playoff race. It would take the Steelers losing out and the Ravens winning only one more game this season, a Week 16 matchup in Pittsburgh. But if those things happen and the Bengals win out (including beating the Steelers this week and Ravens in Week 17), Cincinnati can still take home the division crown and make it to the playoffs. How ironic would that be after what the Bengals have been through this season?

But, don’t get your hopes up yet. The currently winless, 0-13 Browns would need to beat the (now division leading) Steelers at Heinz Field in Week 17 for this scenario to occur and for the Bengals to win the AFC North.

There’s also a crazy scenario in which the Bengals could grab a Wild Card spot in the playoffs, but the odds of that happening are even less than the odds of Cincinnati winning the AFC North. You can play around with ESPN’s playoff machine, if you’re into dreaming about nearly impossible playoff scenarios.

I figured out one scenario where these are the key games:

  • Week 15: Browns beat Bills in Buffalo, Chiefs beat Titans in Kansas City, Bengals beat Steelers in Cincinnati, Patriots beat Broncos in Denver, Raiders beat Chargers in San Diego, Vikings beat Colts in Minnesota, Eagles beat the Ravens in Baltimore.
  • Week 16: Raiders beat Colts in Oakland, Bills beat Dolphins in Buffalo, Patriots beat Jets in New England, Jaguars beat Titans in Jacksonville, Bengals beat Texans in Houston, Steelers beat Ravens in Baltimore, Chiefs beat Broncos in Denver.
  • Week 17: Texans beat Titans in Tennessee, Bengals beat Ravens in Cincinnati, Jaguars beat Colts in Indianapolis, Patriots beat Dolphins in Miami, Chiefs beat Chargers in San Diego, Raiders beat Broncos in Denver, Browns beat Steelers in Pittsburgh.

And with all of these games playing out as such, the Bengals get the #6 seed with an 8-7-1 record and play at the #3 seed Steelers in the Wild Card round at Heinz Field. There is less than a 1% chance that this all happens, per FiveThirtyEight. In fact, FiveThirtyEight isn’t even considering it a possibility.

But, the next step toward making it happen is a win against the Steelers in Cincinnati on Sunday.

If the NFL season ended today, which it doesn’t, here’s who would be in the playoffs and who would be left watching at home:


1. New England Patriots (11-2) (AFC: 8-1)

2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-3) (AFC: 7-2)

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5) (AFC: 6-3)

4. Houston Texans (7-6) (AFC: 5-4)

5. Oakland Raiders (10 -3) (AFC: 7–2)

6. Denver Broncos (8-5) (AFC: 5-4)

In the hunt:

7. Miami Dolphins (8-5) (AFC: 5-4)

8. Baltimore Ravens (7-6) (AFC: 7-3)

9. Tennessee Titans (7-6) (AFC: 4-5)

10. Indianapolis Colts (6-7) (AFC: 4–6)

11. Buffalo Bills (6-7) (AFC: 3-6)

12. Cincinnati Bengals (5-7-1) (AFC: 4-5)


1. **Dallas Cowboys (11-2) (NFC: 7–2)

2. Detroit Lions (9–4 (NFC: 7–2)

3. Seattle Seahawk (8–4–1 (NFC: 4–4–1)

4. Atlanta Falcons (8–5 (NFC: 6–3)

5. New York Giants (9–4 (NFC: 6–3)

6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8–5 (NFC: 6–3)

In the hunt:

7. Washington Redskins (7-5-1 (NFC: 5–4)

8. Minnesota Vikings (7–6 (NFC: 4–6)

9. Green Bay Packers (7–6 (NFC: 5–4)

10. Arizona Cardinals (5-7-1 (NFC: 4-4-1)

**The Cowboys have clinched a playoff berth and could clinch a first round bye in the playoffs with one more win this season.