Very few NFL fan bases lay claim to quite so many tortuous seasons and disappointments as those who’ve supported the Cincinnati Bengals. In 13 playoff appearances since 1970, the Bengals have five victories and none have come in 25 years despite four straight wild card berths since 2011.
That all could change this season as the Bengals are on the verge of attaining the AFC’s No. 1 seed for the first time since 1988’s run to the Super Bowl and their third overall, including their appearance in Super Bowl XVI in 1982.
While Las Vegas odds makers certainly don’t like Cincinnati’s chances of claiming the first Super Bowl title in franchise history, the Bengals have four games left to tackle the No. 1 seed and have every fan shout “Who Dey!” if they can secure home-field throughout the postseason.
As of now the Bengals are perched atop the very crowded AFC standings, and though a lot can happen over the next four contests, they can overcome both the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots to rule the conference.
Here’s a complete breakdown of each of the AFC’s current top contenders for the conference’s top two playoff seeds, including their overall, division, and in-conference records, and their current odds to win Super Bowl 50 via Bovada.lv.
1.Cincinnati Bengals (10-2 overall, 4-0 division, 8-1 conference) +900 odds
Keeping pace with Denver and New England is the Bengals top priority, and that all starts with clinching the AFC North crown with a victory vs. Pittsburgh on Sunday. Besides guaranteeing a top-four seed, it would mark Cincinnati’s first sweep of their division foe since 2009 and increase the pressure on Denver and New England, while solidifying the hold on the in-conference tiebreaker.
The Bengals already have two more wins than Denver in the AFC and one less loss, and one more victory than New England. However, Cincinnati can only pad that record in three of their final four games, while New England and Denver only face AFC foes in the last quarter of the year.
Yet even if they slip slightly, the Bengals can steal the ultimate trump card from Denver by claiming the first tiebreaker (head-to-head matchup) in Week 16 at Mile High.
Winning out is of course the Bengals' best way of holding No. 1, but beating the Broncos likely assures no lower than No. 2 with a bye week and one home playoff.
2.Denver Broncos (10-2, 3-1, 6-2) +850
Three straight victories with Brock Osweiler under center and dominate performances from their league-best defense keep the Broncos in contention for No. 1, and their Week 12 overtime triumph over New England is maybe the ultimate feather in their cap. It could very well be the only thing standing between the Broncos and a trip to Foxboro in January.
In fact, of this top group, the Broncos are the only ones who can immediately swipe the head-to-head tiebreaker from the other two contenders. One or potentially both of those victories will come in handy after Week 17’s in the books.
But first-year head Gary Kubiak won’t be looking ahead to Week 16, considering Denver’s massive game on Sunday. The Broncos can take down the AFC West with a victory over Oakland this week and a loss by Kansas City, or they can at least clinch a playoff berth by beating Oakland and a loss by the Jets or Steelers.
3.New England Patriots (10-2, 4-0, 7-1) +450
Injuries have led to two straight losses for New England after starting the year 10-0 and ruling atop the AFC for the first 11 weeks. Still, the defending champions rank as Carolina’s top competition for the Super Bowl title.
Matters are made more difficult considering New England hits the road for three of its final four games, however two of those games involve the 3-9 Titans and 5-7 Dolphins.
Even with the loss to Denver still stinging, that blazing start to the season afforded the Patriots a seemingly insurmountable four-game lead over Indianapolis for the No. 3 seed. They also own a three-game in-conference record lead over the Colts, which should negate their poor .486 strength of schedule and .458 strength of victory, percentages that would be hindrances in late tie-breaking situations.
The Patriots have a difficult matchup this week against playoff-minded Houston, but they can sew up the AFC East by beating Houston and a New York Jets loss, or a win over Houston and a tie in strength of victory tiebreaker over the Jets.