Cincinnati Bengals Playoff Scenarios and Best Possible Paths Heading Into Week 16

Winning today is the top priority for the Cincinnati Bengals, but what are the other ideal outcomes to increase their chances of making the playoffs?

The Cincinnati Bengals go into today’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium with a 39% chance of making the playoffs, according to the New York Times Playoff Predictor.

If the Bengals win to improve to 9-6, their chances vault to 60%. And, according to PFN Playoff Predictor, they will remain locked into a playoff spot for another week, regardless of what happens in the games Sunday and Monday.

The Bengals currently hold the No. 6 spot, and the lowest they could fall with a win would be to No. 7 if the Houston Texans beat the Cleveland Browns, the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons beat the Indianapolis Colts. Outside of that scenario, Cincinnati would stay in the No. 6 spot with a victory against Pittsburgh.

Cincinnati Bengals Playoff Chances | Week 16 Update

Note that this article was originally published on Saturday, Dec. 23 at 3:25 p.m. before Saturday’s games began. The results of this week’s games are below and will continue to be updated throughout the day.

After all the games in Week 16, the Bengals are the No. 10 seed in the AFC.

Saturday Games Update
Steelers (8-7) defeated Bengals (8-7)
Bills (9-6) defeated Chargers (5-10)

Sunday 1 p.m. ET Games Update
Browns (10-5) defeated Texans (8-7)
Falcons (7-8) defeated Colts (8-7)

Sunday 4 p.m. ET Games Update
Dolphins (11-4) defeated Cowboys (10-5)
Buccaneers (8-7) defeated Jaguars (8-7)

SNF Update
Patriots (4-11) defeated Broncos (7-8)

Christmas Day Update
Raiders (7-8) defeated Chiefs (9-6)
Ravens (12-3) defeated 49ers (11-4)

Keep reading below to see the playoff scenarios for the Bengals entering Week 16. And head over to PFN’s free NFL Playoff Predictor to test various scenarios and see how they change both the playoff picture and the current NFL playoff bracket.

Which Week 16 Games Impact the Bengals’ Playoff Chances?

But if the Bengals lose to the Steelers, their chances of making the playoffs plummet to 13%, and there is no scenario in which they would still be holding one of the Wild Card spots at the end of the Week 16 games.

Not only would the Bengals have to overcome the 13% odds, they would have to make history to find their way into the playoffs.

A loss to the Steelers would drop the Bengals to 3-7 in the conference and 0-5 in the division, and since the NFL went to the current division alignment in 2002, no team has lost five division games and still made the playoffs.

Even at 2-4, if they beat the Steelers today and the Browns in Week 18, the Bengals would have history fighting against them. There have been 129 teams that went 2-4 in division play since 2002 and only 12 (9.3%) have made the playoffs.

One of those teams was the 2011 Bengals.

Most of the other games involving playoff hopefuls come with obvious rooting interests for the Bengals and their fans.

But one game on Sunday is tricky, with pros and cons existing on both sides of the result between the Browns and Texans.

Cincinnati fans are used to rooting against Cleveland, but a Browns victory would knock the Texans out of the group of teams currently tied at 8-6, including the Bengals.

But Houston still could end up tied with the Bengals for one of the final Wild Card spots, and that would be problematic if they are the last two teams remaining in the tiebreaker because Houston beat Cincinnati 30-27 in Week 10.

The ideal scenario for the Bengals would be to have the Texans win the AFC South, leaving the Jaguars and Colts — teams Cincinnati has beaten — to battle for the Wild Cards.

MORE: Bengals vs. Steelers Inactives — Week 16 Injury Report and Starting Lineups

There is a three-way tie atop the AFC South with the Colts, Jaguars, and Texans all 8-6. One team will win it, and the other two will join a deep pool of Wild Card candidates that includes the Browns (9-5), Bengals (8-6), Colts (8-6), Texans (8-6), Buffalo Bills (8-6), Steelers (7-7), and Denver Broncos (7-7).

Here are the Week 16 games and which teams Bengals fans should be rooting for, in order of importance. First, though, it’s important to note that the Bengals do not control their destiny yet. There are a couple of scenarios where they could win out to finish 11-6 and still not make the playoffs.

That’s why knowing the rooting interests can be important.

Here they are:

  • New England Patriots (3-11) at Broncos (7-7): Patriots
  • Jaguars (8-6) at Buccaneers (7-7): Buccaneers
  • Bills (8-6) at Los Angeles Chargers (5-9): Chargers
  • Browns (9-5) at Texans (8-6): Texans
  • Colts (8-6) at Falcons (6-8): Falcons
  • Las Vegas Raiders (6-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-5): Raiders

The Broncos pose the biggest threat to the Bengals because two teams do not play this year, and if the Bengals end up in a multi-team tiebreaker where they are undefeated against the other teams but Denver is also involved, head-to-head is not applicable.

A team has to have beaten all of the other teams — or lost to all of the other teams — involved in the tie for head-to-head to be used.

The next tiebreaker is conference record, where the Bengals currently have the worst mark (3-6) of any team yet to be eliminated from contention.

Bengals fans also should be big Buccaneers fans this weekend. Not only could Cincinnati move ahead of the Jaguars with a win and a Tampa Bay win, but a Jacksonville loss also would help Houston’s chances of winning the AFC South.

The Chargers are next on the list because while the Bengals have the head-to-head edge on Buffalo and would win a two-way tie, having a hot Bills team fall a game behind would be ideal.

MORE: What Will Ja’Marr Chase’s Absence Mean for Tee Higgins and the Bengals’ Offense?

The Browns-Texans game, as mentioned earlier, has appeal on both sides.

The Falcons-Colts’ choice is obvious.

The Chiefs are in play here for reasons similar to those that exist in the AFC South. If the Broncos can win the AFC West, that would remove that possible tiebreaker landmine. Plus, the Bengals have a Week 17 game at Kansas City and could score another head-to-head win against another Wild Card team if Denver prevails.

Here are the remaining games for the teams in contention, ranked by hardest strength of schedule to easiest:

  • Steelers (7-7): vs. Bengals (8-6), at Seahawks (7-7), at Ravens (11-3) – .610
  • Bengals (8-6): at Steelers (7-7), at Chiefs (9-5), vs. Browns (9-5) – .595
  • Texans (8-6): vs. Browns (9-5), vs. Titans (5-9), at Colts (8-6) – .524
  • Browns (9-5): at Texans (8-6), vs. Jets (5-9), at Bengals (8-6) – .500
  • Colts (8-6): at Falcons (6-8), vs. Raiders (6-8), vs. Texans (8-6) – .476
  • Chiefs (9-5): vs. Raiders (6-8), vs. Bengals (8-6), at Chargers (5-9) – .452
  • Bills (8-6): at Chargers (5-9), vs. Patriots (3-11), at Dolphins (10-4) – .429
  • Broncos (7-7): vs. Patriots (3-11), vs. Chargers (5-9), at Raiders (6-8) – .333
  • Jaguars (8-6): at Buccaneers (7-7), vs. Panthers (2-12), at Titans (5-9)– .333

Want to predict the rest of the 2023 season with our FREE NFL Playoff Predictor? Looking for the most up-to-date NFL standings? What about a breakdown of team depth charts or the NFL schedule? Pro Football Network has you covered with that and more!

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