If season ended today, who would the Bengals play in first round of AFC playoffs?

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Cincinnati Bengals: Five things to know about AFC North champs

Cincinnati can still improve postseason seeding with one game left to play

The Cincinnati Bengals already punched their ticket to the playoffs, but now they will be playing for seeding when they head to Cleveland for the regular-season finale.

Cincinnati clinched the AFC North title with a 34-31 comeback win Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, winning on a last-second field goal from Evan McPherson after a defensive penalty on fourth-and-inches reset the downs and allowed time to run off the clock.

The Bengals haven’t been to the playoffs since 2015, but an entire generation of fans have never witnessed a playoff win. The team’s top players, like Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Joe Mixon, weren’t even born when Cincinnati earned its last playoff win during the 1990 season. The Bengals are 0-8 in the postseason since then.

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“We’ve gotten to this point so many times and failed to capitalize, and that’s kind of the narrative that’s been the Cincinnati Bengals,” said Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard, a Cincinnati native and lifelong fan of the team. “To get an opportunity to clinch the division and actually take advantage of it and have this momentum going into the playoffs, it’s something that’s uncharacteristic of the Bengals, and it signifies what we’ve been talking about for awhile — about how things are changing and the direction we’re heading as a franchise and as a team, so it’s really special.”

If the regular-season ended today, the Bengals would be playing the Colts (9-7) at home in the first round of the playoffs.

A chance to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs makes the finale important.

After Sunday’s games, the Bengals (10-6) are in line for the third seed in the AFC, behind the No. 1 Tennessee Titans (11-5) and No. 2 Chiefs (11-5). The No. 1 seed in the seven-team conference playoffs get first-round byes, and it seems unlikely, though still possible, the Bengals could secure such an advantage. Moving up to the No. 2 seed would mean home-field advantage until the conference final.

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Tennessee plays the Texans (4-12) on the road Sunday while the Bengals are playing the already-eliminated Browns (7-8) in Cleveland at 1 p.m. They will go into that game already knowing the outcome of the Chiefs’ game at Denver (7-9). That game is now set for 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

If Kansas City loses, the Bengals would have the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage.

“We need to take it one game at a time right now — I think that’s the key,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said Sunday after the game. “We’ve always had big goals for this team and this franchise, but you’ve got to take care of the task at hand. Cleveland has been no easy task for us, but I think what’s important is you’ve got to play your best football at the end of the season going into the playoffs, and I think right now we’re playing pretty good football. The confidence is really high in the locker room. You don’t want to take a team into the playoffs that’s feeling like they hit a lull, and I think we’re in a really good spot right now.”

Cincinnati will be looking for its first win against Cleveland since 2019. Burrow has never beaten the Browns in his three meetings, but he’s playing the best football of his career, he said. The team hadn’t strung together more than two wins all season, and now, at a time it’s important to be able to do that, the Bengals have a chance to carry a four-game winning streak into the postseason.

Burrow said the Bengals are right where they thought they should be at this point.

“I said it in the preseason,” Burrow said. “We were talking about playoffs, and I said that if we were going to go to the playoffs, the easiest way to do that was to win the division. Everyone kind of laughed at us a little bit, but we knew what kind of team we had and the kind of guys in the locker room we had. We knew we could go out and do it.”

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Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins celebrates after the Bengals defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 34-31 in an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

Credit: Jeff Dean

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins celebrates after the Bengals defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 34-31 in an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

Credit: Jeff Dean

caption arrowCaption
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins celebrates after the Bengals defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 34-31 in an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

Credit: Jeff Dean

Credit: Jeff Dean

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