Posted: 9:05 p.m.
If the season were over after 13 games, the AFC North champion Bengals would host their North arch-rival Steelers in a first-round playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium the weekend of Jan. 7-8.
But it's not over and the 10-3 Bengals aren't the AFC North champions yet even though Sunday's 23-20 victory over the Browns secured Cincinnati the best division record for the season at 5-1. The 8-5 Steelers can't do better than 4-2, so the next Bengals victory or Steelers loss gives the Bengals their first division title since 1990.
The AFC North Ravens just missed giving the Bengals a huge lift in their bid to capture the AFC's No. 2 seed behind the unbeaten Colts and get a bye for the playoffs when Baltimore lost a 12-10 game to Denver on Sunday. The Bengals and Broncos are both 10-3, but Denver holds a slight lead for the second seed in the tiebreaker, which is winning percentage in AFC games with the Broncos at 7-2 and the Bengals at 7-3.
Their finishing stretches are still a mirror. The Broncos' last three games are all against AFC foes with Saturday's game at 4-9 Buffalo and Dec. 31 game at 8-5 San Diego book-ending a home game with the 4-9 Raiders. The Bengals next Sunday go to NFC Detroit, which is 4-8 heading into the Sunday night game with Green Bay. Cincinnati finishes with a home Christmas Eve game against Buffalo and a New Year's road game at 8-5 Kansas City.
The next tiebreaker with Denver is common games, a step that is still murky since they both have to play Buffalo and the Bengals still have to play the Chiefs. They've both beaten Baltimore, but Denver beat Jacksonville while the Bengals lost to the Jaguars. The Broncos have split with the Chiefs.
If the Bengals can't get that No. 2 seed, they still may have a say who they host in a first-round game since the Chiefs, Chargers and Steelers are all tied for the sixth seed and last wild-card spot at 8-5. It's an incomplete schedule because the Chargers still have to play the Chiefs again. But since San Diego won that first game, they would move to a tiebreaker against Pittsburgh and the Steelers would win a head-to-head because they beat the Chargers earlier in the year.