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Bengals Embark On Historic NFL Playoff Scramble

DT B.J. Hill celebrates his interception during the Colts-Bengals game in Week 14 of the 2023 season on Sunday, December 10 at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.
DT B.J. Hill celebrates his interception during the Colts-Bengals game in Week 14 of the 2023 season on Sunday, December 10 at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.

With the Bengals one of a historic six AFC teams knotted at 7-6 heading into Saturday's game against the Vikings (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 9, NFL Network), there seemingly are more playoff possibilities than the 65,981 that wedged into Paycor to watch Sunday's 34-14 win over the 7-6 Colts.

Elias Sports Bureau says it is the first time in either the AFC or NFC there have been six teams at 7-6 through week 14. It's happened many years with five teams.

But with four games left, the Colts still have the seventh final playoff spot and the Bengals are 10th behind the Texans and Broncos because of a better AFC record than the Bengals' 3-6. About the only certain things we know for sure are that in the two previous 17-game seasons, no 10-7 team has not made it and in the three previous seasons of the expanded seven-team playoff format only one 10-win team has not made it and that was the 10-6 Dolphins in 2020.

And The New York Times' vaunted playoff predictor raised the Bengals' chances to making it from 10 to 25% after the win over Indy.

Of course, we know the tiebreakers. If it comes down to a tie between two teams, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head. Then, best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division. Then best won-lost-tied percentage in common games. Then conference record. Same with three or more teams in a tie on Jan. 8.

Other than that, check in with the Stats Masterson of the Bengals beat, Pro Football Network's Jay Morrison. The Fairfield High School math whiz who spent a chunk of his December finals as a sophomore at Ohio University trying to figure out if Boomer Esiason's 1986 Bengals could make it at 10-6.

(They didn't.)

"When I was in college the Bengals were always in the mix and there were no playoff predictors," Morrison said Monday. "I did it on my own. With newspapers and future schedules.  It was a little easier. There weren't as many teams. But I never remember it being as jumbled as this."

Because it hasn't. Morrison says next weekend is "a schedule Nirvana for Bengals fans." They can watch the Bengals and Vikes at 1 p.m. and then Steelers and Colts at 4:30 followed by the Broncos-Lions at 8:15. Then on Sunday, Texans-Titans at 1 p.m. followed by Ravens-Jags at 8:20.

Not as clear-cut as you may think. It would be best to root against the Texans, right, since they beat the Bengals? But it may be better for the Bengals if the Texans win the AFC South because that would have them competing with the Jaguars for the Wild Card since they beat them head-to-head.

"If you're holding on to that, then you're rooting for the Titans," Morrison said. "There's also a .02 percent chance the Bengals can still win the division, but the Ravens have to go 0-4 and the Bengals have to go 4-0 to at least have a chance. Plus the Browns have to go 2-2 or worse and the Steelers 3-1 or worse. But if the idea is to put the Jags in the Wild Card, then Bengals' fans find themselves actually rooting for the Ravens Sunday."

So that Steelers-Colts game?

"It could go either way," Morrison said. "But the Colts are the better option. The Bengals beat them head-to-head and there's no chance for them to own head-to-head on the Steelers no matter what happens this year."

Morrison says to take heart with that conference record. If they stay in it, they have to go 4-0 or 3-1 the rest of the way, he figures, and that will get them back in the AFC record mix.