Bengals playoff picture: Cincinnati’s updated chances to make 2023 NFL playoffs after Week 15 win vs. Vikings

When the Bengals opened the season 0-2 with losses to the Browns and Ravens, their hopes appeared to be a bit dire. Getting blown out by the Titans in Week 4 to fall to 1-3 added to the concern levels. But there was one factor that kept the NFL world from writing them off: Joe Burrow.

The star quarterback, who signed an extension to become the highest-paid player in the NFL, had led the Bengals to back-to-back AFC championships and had been nursing a calf injury during the early stages of the season. After the bye in Week 7, he appeared to be back to normal, and the Bengals went to 5-3 with wins over the 49ers and Bills.

Losing to the Texans was a blow, but the biggest loss was sustained a week later in Baltimore. Burrow clutched his wrist after throwing a touchdown to Joe Mixon, and he did not return to the game. The Bengals were blown out by their division rivals and a day later, their star QB was ruled out for the year with a torn ligament in his wrist.

It felt like the Bengals’ season was over, falling to 5-5 and losing Burrow. A week later, a stifling 16-10 defeat to the Steelers felt nearly like the final nail.

WEEK 15 PICKS: Straight up | Against the spread | Model

Since then, the Bengals have rattled off back-to-back impressive wins, beating the Jaguars on the road and the Colts in Cincinnati to move to 7-6. The offense, led by backup Jake Browning, appeared back to working order with 34 points scored in both victories. 

And Browning led that team to another win on Saturday, beating the Vikings 27-24 in overtime, which included an impressive throw to Tyler Boyd in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal.

Just how alive are the Bengals’ playoff chances? Here’s what you need to know.

Bengals playoff picture

The Bengals are likely in a more promising position than many expected when Burrow was ruled out for the season. The win vaulted the Bengals all the way up to the sixth spot, ahead of the Steelers, who lost on Saturday. Sitting at 8-6, Cincinnati is in the middle of the AFC hunt.

Seed Team Record
1 Ravens 10-3
2 Dolphins 10-4
3 Chiefs 9-5
4 Jaguars 8-5
5 Browns 9-5
6 Bengals 8-6
7 Colts 8-6
8 Texans 8-6
9 Bills 7-6
10 Steelers 7-7
11 Broncos 7-7

The playoff picture is a cluster at the moment with several teams tied at 8-6. The tiebreaking system is complicated, with division tiebreaks between all the teams being separated first, then other tiebreaking measures being used to decide the order of the teams in certain pods.

The Bengals are in a precarious position for several reasons. If they wind up in a tie at the end of the year with the Steelers, they will lose the divisional tiebreaker with Pittsburgh. At 0-4 in AFC North play, the Bengals are guaranteed to have the worst divisional record among all other AFC North teams. They also lost the head-to-head matchup against the Texans and won’t play the Broncos.

Cincinnati does have head-to-head wins over the Colts and the Bills, as well as the Jaguars, if Jacksonville falls out of the AFC South division lead.

Cincinnati ends the year with three straight AFC games, facing the Steelers, Chiefs and Browns, giving the Bengals a chance to at least move to 6-6 in conference play this year.

Bengals remaining schedule

Cincinnati has gotten itself in position to make a surprising run at the postseason. The challenge now is to keep that run going into a challenging part of the schedule.

The Bengals beat the Vikings, and now will hit the road for back-to-back games against the Steelers and Chiefs. The season ends with a home game against the Browns, a team that has had the Bengals’ number like no other in recent years.

Week Opponent Bengals’ win odds
15 vs. Vikings* 58.1%
16 at Steelers 49.5%
17 at Chiefs 21%
18 vs. Browns 65.4%

* – Won 27-24

The Bengals are slight underdogs in a virtual pick ’em on the road against the Steelers, a team that beat them 16-13 in Cincinnati in Browning’s first NFL start. The Chiefs are heavy favorites, as expected, while the Bengals are home favorites against Cleveland.

Should Cincinnati win two of those remaining three, the Bengals should be in a position to reach the playoffs. Sitting at 10-7 should be enough for them to reach the postseason. But that could be easier said than done.

Bengals playoff chances

Per Sporting News’ projection model, the Bengals have a 27.6 percent chance of making the playoffs after beating Minnesota. That is considerably up from the 2.8 percent chance the Bengals had after losing to the Steelers in Week 13.

Still, it is not all that high among the overall wild-card contenders. 

Team xW-L Div% WC% Playoff%
Browns 10-7 7.5% 69% 76.5%
Texans 10-7 15.3% 48.4% 63.7%
Colts 10-7 14.3% 44.9% 59.2%
Bills 10-7 13.5% 33% 46.4%
Bengals 10-7 0.1% 27.5% 27.6%
Broncos 9-8 0.5% 26% 26.5%
Steelers 8-9 0.1% 6.6% 6.7%

The Browns have set themselves a cut above the fray at 9-5. The Texans edged the Titans in overtime without C.J. Stroud to add another win to their surprising 2023 campaign. Indianapolis’ win over the Steelers on Saturday knocked down a wild-card contender and vaulted the Colts up with a weak schedule remaining. The Bills have the best quarterback left among the teams in the race in Josh Allen. Currently, those are the four clear wild-card favorites.

The Broncos lost to the Lions, but then three straight teams with a losing record, putting them close behind the Bengals in playoff odds.

That leaves Pittsburgh as the most likely to miss the postseason, per the model. The Steelers lost games against the Cardinals and Patriots before falling to the Colts, and Saturday’s defeat appears to have put a nail in the Steelers’ postseason hopes.

There is certainly still a path for the Bengals to reach the playoffs. But if they don’t win at least two of their three remaining games, they could need some help.

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