NFL Playoff Picture: How Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals Can Win the AFC North in Week 17

For the first time in several seasons, the Cincinnati Bengals won’t be ringing in the new year with an early eye toward the upcoming NFL draft. Not with Joe Burrow at quarterback and an aggressive defense that loves beating on opposing signal-callers.

Barring a collapse over the next two weeks, the Bengals should find themselves in the postseason for the first time since January 2016. Although Cincinnati can officially lock up the AFC North in Week 17, they’ll need to either pull off an impressive upset or hope for some help.

The Cincinnati Bengals can clinch the AFC North with a victory over Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs

From the time the season kicked off in September, the previously-woeful Bengals have represented one of the league’s most impressive stories. After going 25-53-2 from 2016-20, Cincinnati entered Week 17 with a 9-6 record and in sole possession of first place in the AFC North.

The Bengals, in large part because of a 4-1 record in divisional play, control their own postseason destiny. If Cincinnati defeats Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 17, the AFC East will officially be theirs.

There is only one problem. The No. 1-seeded Chiefs enter Week 17 with eight straight wins. Had this matchup occurred two months ago amid the Chiefs’ disappointing 3-4 start, perhaps this wouldn’t feel like such an insurmountable task for the upstart Bengals.

Cincinnati can still clinch the AFC North even if they don’t defeat Mahomes, although they’ll need some help. If the Bengals tie and the Los Angeles Rams beat the Baltimore Ravens, the second-place Ravens are mathematically eliminated from winning the division.

A Ravens loss and a tie between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night would also ensure the Bengals are division champions for the first time in six years.

Cincinnati can still clinch a playoff berth so long as it doesn’t lose in Week 17

The NFL playoff scenarios tend to involve a great deal of math, especially when so many teams are technically alive. Make no mistake, the Bengals’ most straightforward path to winning the AFC North is defeating the Chiefs.

However, the Bengals can still lock up a playoff berth with a tie, although they’ll need at least four other specific results to happen in each of the five potential clinching scenarios. Each of those instances involve the Denver Broncos defeating (not tying) the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday afternoon.

From there, the Bengals need the Las Vegas Raiders to tie or lose, depending on the scenario, and chaos among the three AFC East teams who are still not mathematically eliminated.

The Bengals aren’t the only team that can clinch their division in Week 17


How Many Times Have the Cincinnati Bengals Won the AFC North Division?

Four teams — the Chiefs, the Dallas Cowboys, the Green Bay Packers, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — enter Week 17 with their division already clinched. Obviously, the Bengals can join them, depending on how the coming days play out.

Elsewhere in the AFC, the Tennessee Titans can lock up the South with a victory over the streaking Miami Dolphins or an Indianapolis Colts loss to the Raiders. Or, if both teams tie, the division is Tennessee’s.

Over in the NFC, the Rams will win the West with a victory over the Ravens and the Arizona Cardinals either tying or losing to the Cowboys. As in the AFC South, the Rams and Cardinals each tying will give the former team their third NFC West crown in the last five years.

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