For the first time since 2015, the Bengals return to the playoffs.
Cincinnati clinched the AFC North with a 34-31 win over the Chiefs in Week 17. It was the first season since 2009 that the Bengals had swept both the Ravens and the Steelers, a drastic three-quarter turn in the game. division.
Now, the Bengals are waiting to see who they will face in the playoffs and which seed they will enter the field. Given how open the AFC playoff field remains, Cincinnati could face any number of teams and has the potential to land on just about any seeded player.
What are the different scenarios the Bengals currently face heading into their last game of the regular season? Sporting News breaks it down.
NFL WEEK 18 SELECTIONS: Direct | Against the spread
How the Bengals get to second place
The Chiefs cemented one of the top two spots in the AFC with their win against the Broncos on Saturday, and while it’s a long shot for the Bengals, they can finish as the No. 2 team. The path there is one of two:
- A win over the Browns Y a victory for the Texans (against the titans) Y a win for the Bills (vs. Jets)
- A win over the Browns Y a victory for the Texans (against the titans) Y a win / draw for the Dolphins (vs. Patriots)
The Bengals need help to gain home-court advantage against everyone but the Chiefs in the playoffs, and it begins with the Titans falling to the Texans. However, if that happens and the Bengals beat the Browns in Cleveland, they have a good chance of moving up to No. 2.
MORE: Full Picture of the NFL Playoffs After Week 17
How the Bengals reach third place
Much of the Bengals’ higher-seeded hopes hinge on the AFC East result, as Cincinnati has a tiebreaker advantage with the Bills, but not the Patriots. The No. 3 seed continues to show how much the Bengals need the Bills to win the division:
- A win over the Browns Y a victory of the titans (against the Texans) Y a win for the Bills (vs. Jets)
- A win over the Browns Y a victory of the titans (against the Texans) Y a Dolphins win (vs. Patriots)
- A win / draw against the Browns Y a win / draw for the Dolphins (vs. Patriots) Y a draw of the titans (against the Texans)
- A win / draw against the Browns Y a win / draw for the Dolphins (vs. Patriots) Y a Jets win / draw (vs. Bills)
- A loss to the Browns Y a Dolphins win (vs. Patriots) Y a Jets win (vs. Bills)
This would appear to be one of the easier routes for the Bengals, as there are a multitude of different ways that they finish No. 3 if they beat the Browns. Counting on the victories of the Titans and the Bills? Not bad.
How the Bengals get to No. 4
There aren’t that many scenarios where the Bengals win and still drop to No. 4, but it’s not impossible. He loses, and the path to No. 4 seems a bit more inevitable:
- A win / draw against the Browns Y a Titans win / draw (vs. Texans) Y a Patriots win (vs. Dolphins) Y a Jets win / draw (vs. Bills)
- A loss / draw against the Browns Y a win for the Bills (vs. Jets)
- A loss / draw against the Browns Y a Patriots win (vs. Dolphins)
- A loss to the Browns Y a win / draw for the Bills (against the Jets)
- A loss to the Browns Y a Patriots win / draw (vs. Dolphins)
They are pretty straightforward. He loses to the Browns, and only one of the two AFC East heavyweights has to beat his opponent to advance past his AFC North counterpart.
Possible Bengals playoff matchups
The open nature of the AFC seed and the range of possibilities for the Cincinnati playoff seed mean they could face just about anyone in the postseason.
The Bengals have the potential to take on any of the following teams: the Bills, Chargers, Colts, Patriots, Raiders, Ravens, Steelers. Since there are dozens of possible outcomes for each team to face, we’re going to break it down based on the opponents the Bengals could face based on their potential playoff seed:
- No. 2 Bengals vs. No. 7: Bills, Chargers, Colts, Patriots, Raiders, Ravens, Steelers
- No. 3 Bengals vs. No. 6: Bills, Chargers, Colts, Patriots, Raiders
- No. 4 Bengals vs. No. 5: Bills, Chargers, Colts, Patriots, Raiders
Cincinnati fans won’t know who their team will possibly face until after “Sunday Night Football” between the Chargers and the Raiders, which is the last game of the 2021 NFL regular season. Until then, almost all teams are Up for grabs for the Bengals to meet in the first round of the playoffs.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.