The AFC North is the most competitive division in football. All four teams are separated by a single game, with the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens tied atop the table at 8-6. The Pittsburgh Steelers are just a half-game back at 7-6-1, while the Cleveland Browns are in the cellar at 7-7. The Ravens vs. Bengals on Sunday will go a long way in determining the division champion and impact various playoff scenarios.
Playoff implications, clinching scenarios for Ravens vs. Bengals
No team in the AFC North can clinch anything this weekend. The division — and the Wild Card race — is simply too tight. The Bengals are currently the division leaders and the fourth seed in the AFC because of their 41-17 victory over the Ravens in Week 7.
Baltimore, meanwhile, dropped like a rock down the standings when they lost to the Packers on their last play in Week 15. They are now the eighth seed and in real danger of missing the playoffs after a 5-1 start.
Baltimore Ravens Week 16 playoff implications
The Ravens have grievously injured their playoff hopes with a three-game losing streak. But if they can stop the bleeding this weekend, things actually look quite good for them. A win would put them at 83% to make the postseason and 73% to win the AFC North, per FiveThirtyEight. They’d be at least a game clear of the Bengals and Browns and set up a potential AFC North title game against the Steelers in Week 18.
It’s this simple for Baltimore: Take care of business against the AFC North, and you’ll almost certainly be playing in Wild Card Weekend. Win out (which would include a victory over the Los Angeles Rams, who enter the weekend at 10-4), and you’re a lock.
But a loss Sunday against the Bengals? Things get really, really dicey. The Ravens would still probably be OK if they win out, but again, that would mean beating one of the best teams in the league (the Rams) in Week 17 — and doing so on the heels of a four-game losing streak. A loss would also drop Baltimore to 1-4 in the division and 5-6 in the conference.
Additionally, the Ravens have some ugly head-to-head defeats on their résumé. They have losses to the Raiders, Dolphins, and Steelers while splitting with the Browns, all of which are part of the AFC’s historic playoff race. Entering Week 16, 10 of the conference’s 16 teams had six or seven losses.
Cincinnati Bengals Week 16 playoff implications
The Bengals basically saved their season last week by surviving a slugfest with the Broncos. They are now a coin flip to make the playoffs, but as the Ravens, their margin for error is small. A win would put the Bengals at 74% to make the playoffs and 63% to win the division. Much like their divisional foe, Cincinnati controls its own destiny.
Beat the Ravens, Chiefs (10-4), and Browns, and the Bengals are not only in, but they’re hosting a first-round playoff game. Yet, it might not take that much to get in. Winning their two remaining AFC North games would almost certainly do the trick. (The only way they wouldn’t win the AFC North in that scenario is if the Steelers run the table.)
However, things get really sticky for the Bengals if they lose Sunday. Their odds of making the playoffs drop to 1-in-4, and their odds of winning the division fall to 1-in-11. They would then need to win out — remember, the Chiefs are next week — and still get some help.
A Bengals loss would also bring less, not more, clarity to the AFC Wild Card picture. Cincinnati would fall to 6-4 in the conference and potentially out of the playoff field altogether. They have beaten the Raiders and Broncos and swept the Steelers but have lost to the Browns and Chargers.