Thanks to a thrilling Week 17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati is now guaranteed to host at least one playoff game after winning the AFC North.
The Bengals could still earn the No. 1 seed in the AFC and potentially host two playoff games in the Divisional Round and AFC Championship. However, that’s a big longshot right now, as it would require a win by the Bengals at Cleveland, plus losses by the 11-5 Chiefs and 11-5 Tennessee Titans, then either a New England Patriots loss to the Miami Dolphins, or a Buffalo Bills win over the New York Jets.
For now, ESPN’s playoff machine projects the Bengals to earn the No. 3 seed and host the No. 6 seed Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card round. That’s the same projection if the Bengals beat the Browns in Week 18.
The Bengals and Colts last played in Week 6 of 2020, a game that saw Joe Burrow’s club jump out to a 21-0 lead in Indy, only to have the home team rally to a 31-27 win.
However, if the Bengals lose to the Browns, ESPN projects the former to drop to the No. 4 seed and host either the Bills or Patriots. It would be the Patriots if both of those AFC East rivals win in Week 18, but it will be the Bills if they lose. The Bengals last played the Patriots and Bills during the 2019 season, both of which were losses in Zac Taylor’s rookie season.
So to recap: The Bengals will clinch the No. 1 seed and homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs with a win over the Browns, a Chiefs loss to the Broncos, a Titans loss to the Texans, and a Patriots loss/tie against the Dolphins,
A win over the Browns, a Chiefs loss, a Titans loss, and a Bills win over the Jets.
More than likely, the Bengals will be the 3 seed with a win over the Browns or the 4 seed with a loss.
Go here to tinker with ESPN’s playoff machine and project different Bengals outcomes heading into the postseason.