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Week 15 NFL playoff picture: A costly loss for the Bengals in the AFC

Steve Kornacki takes a look at how two big losses shake up the AFC playoff picture, and Mike Florio takes stock of the current landscape in the AFC North.

The Bengals showed a lot of fight in coming back from 14 points down to force overtime on Sunday, but they wound up losing to the 49ers and it may wind up as a moment of great regret come the offseason.

Baltimore’s loss earlier in the day meant that the Bengals would be in first place in the AFC North if they were able to secure a win in the late afternoon slot in Week 14. Two muffed punts and some conservative play-calling left them down big in the fourth quarter, however, and two Ja’Marr Chase touchdown catches weren’t enough to knock off the NFC West club.

As a result, the Bengals failed to move up in the standings and now find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture because of the loss. They will have to go to Denver next Sunday and then close out the season with the Ravens, Chiefs, and Browns so they can’t afford any more stumbles if they want to book passage to the postseason.

Here’s how the entire playoff picture looks after Week 14’s action:

1. Patriots (9-4) The bye week offered some rest ahead of a final playoff push that starts with an intriguing matchup in Indianapolis in Week 15.

2. Titans (9-4) Facing Jacksonville always makes a team feel better, but a truer test of their mettle awaits in Pittsburgh next Sunday.

3. Chiefs (9-4) Winning in Los Angeles on Thursday night would likely make them AFC West champs once again.

4. Ravens (8-5) Losing to the Browns is always painful, but it will be doubly so if Lamar Jackson has to miss an extended period of time.

5. Chargers (8-5) They beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium and a season sweep would shake up the top of the conference’s playoff picture.

6. Colts (7-6) Not playing on Sunday worked out well and the Colts are well positioned for a postseason berth, but no one should be hanging any banners with four weeks still left on the schedule.

7. Bills (7-6) They showed a lot of fight by coming back in Tampa, but they need actual victories not moral ones to finish off their playoff bid.

8. Browns (7-6) They’ve alternated wins and losses for the last eight weeks and continuing on that path won’t work if they’re going to return to the postseason.

9. Bengals (7-6) Sunday’s game in Denver may be a playoff eliminator for the losing side.

10. Broncos (7-6) An emotional win over the Lions keeps them in the hunt for at least one more week.

11. Steelers (6-6-1) The Steelers have played their best when everyone writes them off, so this may be a good week to bet on Pittsburgh.

12. Raiders (6-7) Dancing on the Chiefs logo before Sunday’s game may turn out to be the last happy moment of the Raiders season.

13. Dolphins (6-7) Their bye week interrupted a five-game winning streak, but the scheduling gods made it up to the Dolphins by serving up the Jets in Week 15.


14. Jets (3-10) Official playoff elimination came far later than assumed playoff elimination for the Jets.

15. Texans (2-11) The Davis Mills era will run for at least four more weeks.

16. Jaguars (2-11) The Urban Meyer era may run for just four more weeks.