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Bill Barnwell ranks Bengals as second most likely AFC team to crash playoffs

Bill Barnwell ranked the 11 teams most likely to surprisingly make the playoffs, and the Bengals finished second among AFC teams.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals are currently sitting at 5-6, and the last Wild Card spot for the AFC is still very much in play.

Currently, the 6-5 Bills are sitting in the sixth spot, but that is pending the results of the Ravens game tonight. Either way the Bengals are very alive for a postseason appearance, according to Bill Barnwell of ESPN:

3. Cincinnati Bengals (5-6)

Playoff odds: 5.7 percent

Nobody gets excited by the Bengals at this point, but they're quietly rounding into form, especially on offense. The Andrew Whitworth-less offensive line was a disaster early in the season, and I'm still not sure I trust Cedric Ogbuehi at left tackle, but this passing game might have turned the corner.

The offense might not need to contribute all that much, either. The Bengals' defense ranked 12th in DVOA heading into this week's game against the Browns, which saw them allow 405 yards while holding DeShone Kizer & Co. to 16 points. Cleveland was one of the reasons why the Bengals had the easiest remaining slate of opposing offenses heading into the week; after the Steelers next week, the Bengals finish up with the Bears, Vikings, Lions and Ravens.

The Bengals offense has really come together the past few weeks. Andy Dalton has been playing some of his best football after the bye week. He has 11 touchdowns and two interceptions over the last six games, and he hasn’t thrown an interception for five weeks. Even though he really tried a couple times against the Browns to end that streak.

The running game also got going on Sunday as Joe Mixon ran for 100 yards for the first time in his career. That led to the Bengals actually winning the time of possession battle. Something they had lost by extreme amount over their three-game road trip.

The defense has also been keeping the Bengals in games they had no part even coming close to winning. People have blamed them for the loss against the Titans, but considering they held the Titans scoreless the whole second half until the last drive was the reason the Bengals even had a shot. Not to mention they did it while getting no rest as the offense struggled down the field.

The real thing standing in front of the Bengals is their schedule.

Cincinnati's season might very well come down to what the Bengals do against the Steelers next week and whether they can beat the Ravens in Week 17. The New York Times suggests that Bengals victories in both games would bump their playoff chances from 9 percent to 43 percent. Given how inconsistent both those teams are from week to week, it's hardly out of the question to peg Cincinnati as a surprise candidate to soar up the ranks.

The Steelers crushed the Bengals hopes earlier this season. The Bengals were 2-3 and looking to reach .500. The Bengals were only down by six going into the half, but the second half was a travesty as the Bengals failed to give Mixon a single carry after he was a major reason for their success in the first half.

Now the Bengals again have a chance to reach .500 against the Steelers. Pittsburgh looks like it is one of the teams to beat in the AFC, so this is a good test to see if this team really belongs in the playoffs or not. The Bengals will also play the Ravens again in Week 17, and if everything goes right it could be for the final playoff spot. This is a way different Bengals team from the Week 1 rendition, so they might have a fighting chance.

The last thing standing in the Bengals way is the Chargers. They have been on a rampage as of late, and they have beaten some pretty good teams to get their. They also play the AFC West, which is crumbling to pieces as we speak. There is a very good chance that the Chargers either take that last Wild Card spot or force the Chiefs out of the top seat and into the Wild Card instead.

No matter what though the Bengals have to take care of business for the rest of the season. Their margin of error is super thin. They will have to go out and beat good teams to earn their spot in post season play.