For the first time since 2015, the Bengals are heading back to the playoffs.
Cincinnati clinched the AFC North with a 34-31 win against the Chiefs in Week 17. It was the first season since 2009 that the Bengals had swept both the Ravens and Steelers, a drastic turnaround from three straight fourth-place finishes in the division.
Now, the Bengals are waiting to see who they will face in the playoffs, and at which seed they will enter the field. Given how wide open the AFC playoff field remains, Cincinnati could face any number of teams and has the potential to land in just about any seed.
What are the different scenarios the Bengals currently face heading into their final game of the regular season? Sporting News breaks it down.
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How the Bengals clinch No. 2 seed
The Chiefs solidified one of the top two spots in the AFC with their win against the Broncos on Saturday, and while it’s a longshot for the Bengals, they can finish as the No. 2 team. The path there is one of the two:
The Bengals need some help to clinch home field advantage against all but the Chiefs in the playoffs, and it starts with the Titans falling to the Texans. However, if that happens and the Bengals beat the Browns in Cleveland, they stand a good chance of moving up to No. 2.
How the Bengals clinch No. 3 seed
Much of the Bengals’ higher seeding hopes rides on the outcome of the AFC East, as Cincinnati holds a tie-breaking edge 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:
This would appear to be one of the easier routes for the Bengals, as there’s a multitude of different ways they wind up at No. 3 if they beat the Browns. Counting on wins by the Titans and Bills? Not too bad.
How the Bengals clinch No. 4 seed
There aren’t as many scenarios where the Bengals win and still move down to No. 4, but it’s not impossible. Lose, and the road down to No. 4 looks a bit more inevitable:
Those are pretty straightforward. Lose to the Browns, and only one of the two AFC East heavyweights has to win against their opponent to advance past their AFC North counterpart.
Potential Bengals’ playoff matchups
The wide-open nature of the AFC seeding and the range of possibilities for Cincinnati’s playoff seeding means they could face just about anyone in the postseason.
The Bengals have the potential to face any of the following teams: the Bills, Chargers, Colts, Patriots, Raiders, Ravens, Steelers. Since there are dozens of possible outcomes for facing each team, we’re breaking it down by which opponents the Bengals could face based on their potential playoff seeding:
Cincinnati fans will not know who their team will be facing possibly until after “Sunday Night Football” between the Chargers and Raiders, which is the final game of the 2021 NFL regular-season. Until then, nearly every team is in play for the Bengals to face in the first round of the playoffs.
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