Yes, I know. I get it. A lot of fans are big mad and want people in the Cincinnati Bengals organization fired, and just the mere mention of the word “playoffs” triggers you further.
But look, until the math says there is zero chance, the possibilities of the Bengals making the playoffs are worth exploring. Because believe it or not, there are fans out there — and more than you think — who remain fans despite the circumstances and still root for the team to win and keep hope alive.
And I still have a job to do.
So with the assistance of PFN’s NFL Playoff Predictor, let’s examine what the Bengals need to happen between now and the end of the season to make the playoffs, whether that be as a Wild Card or the Mega Millions-like shot at winning the AFC North division.
How Do the Cincinnati Bengals Make the Playoffs in 2023?
It goes without saying that at 5-6, the Bengals probably would have to run the table to have a chance to make the postseason for a third year in a row.
But even going 5-1 in their final six would get them to 10-7, and since the NFL expanded the playoffs to seven teams per conference in 2020, there has only been one 10-win team that failed to qualify for the playoffs — the 10-6 Dolphins in 2020.
On the flip side of that, there have been five nine-win teams who have earned Wild Card berths, so even a 4-2 finish wouldn’t guarantee the Bengals from being eliminated.
Cincinnati is currently 11th in the AFC playoff standings, but they’re only one game out of the seventh and final spot, which currently belongs to the Indianapolis Colts, a team the Bengals will play at Paycor Stadium in Week 14.
ESPN’s Football Power Index (PFI) gives the Bengals a 3.4% chance of making the playoffs. That means they’re just as likely to do it as you are to win five consecutive coin tosses and 10 times more likely to accomplish it than you are of having your car stolen or a professional bowler rolling a 300 game.
Running the table would have been a difficult task even before Joe Burrow suffered a season-ending wrist injury, so that 3.4 number seems optimistically high with Jake Browning at the helm.
Beyond not having Burrow, the biggest issue facing the Bengals is the fact that they are 1-6 in conference games. They’re also 0-4 in division games, and that could have a bearing on NFL tiebreakers as well because in the event there are three or more teams tied for a Wild Card spot, the first step is to whittle it down to only one team per division by using the divisional tiebreaker formula.
However, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head, and the Bengals’ lone conference win is against a Buffalo Bills team that is 6-6 and in a similar position. Cincinnati also has games remaining against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday night and the aforementioned Week 14 tilt against the Colts.
If you’re a Cincinnati fan holding out hope for a playoff run, you also should be rooting for the Houston Texans. Houston (6-5) already has a win against the Bengals, so the best-case scenario would be for the Texans to win the AFC South and leave the Jaguars (8-3) and Colts (6-5) fighting for Wild Card spots.
And as much as it may pain Bengals fans, they also need to root for the Ravens, who already have completed the season sweep. Cincinnati still has games remaining against the Steelers (7-4) and Browns (7-4). If the premise is winning out, that knocks both of those teams down to five losses.
Pittsburgh and Cleveland each have three division wins already, so both would win a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Bengals even if Cincinnati salvages a season sweep with them. So either the Bengals need to hope for a scenario where all four teams in the AFC North make the playoffs, or they need the Browns or Steelers to finish with a worse record.
Here are their remaining schedules:
Browns (7-4): at Rams (5-6), Jaguars (8-3), Bears (4-8), at Texans (6-5), Jets (4-7), at Bengals (5-6)
Steelers (7-4): Cardinals (2-10), Patriots (2-9), at Colts (6-5), Bengals (5-6), at Seahawks (6-5), at Ravens (9-3)
Can the Bengals Still Win the AFC North?
ESPN’s FPI gives the Bengals less than a half-percent chance, but it’s not zero.
Baltimore leads Cincinnati by 3.5 games and has the tiebreaker edge. That means the Bengals have to finish with a better record. Running the table leaves the Bengals 11-6, which means the Ravens can only win one remaining game.
Baltimore has a difficult schedule to close the season, but the idea of the Ravens going 1-4 in their final five seems more outlandish than the Bengals going 6-0 or even 5-1.
Here is Baltimore’s remaining schedule:
Ravens (9-3): Bye, Rams (5-6), at Jaguars (8-3), at 49ers (8-3), Dolphins (8-3), Steelers (7-4).
What Are the Rooting Interests for the Bengals?
Any time a team finds itself in the position the Bengals currently sit in, scoreboard watching becomes a part of the process.
Below are the Week 13 games that matter and which side Bengals fans should back, ranked in order of importance. The Chiefs and Dolphins outcomes are almost inconsequential as the assumption is those teams will win their divisions and not be in any sort of tiebreaker mix with the Bengals.
- Broncos at Texans: Texans
- Cardinals at Steelers: Cardinals
- Browns at Rams: Rams
- Colts at Titans: Titans
- Chargers at Patriots: Patriots
- Chiefs at Packers: Packers
- Dolphins at Commanders: Commanders
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