The Cincinnati Bengals did not officially enter the playoff picture with their win at San Francisco last weekend, but they certainly altered the conversation.
As winners of three in a row and four of the last five, the Bengals have climbed above .500 for the first time this season. They are 4-3 and currently in the No. 9 position in the AFC playoff race, but you can bet every team above them took notice not just of Sunday’s result but the way the Bengals went right through one of the league’s best defenses behind AFC Player of the Week Joe Burrow.
Which AFC Contender Has the Toughest Remaining Schedule?
This is the time of year the Bengals traditionally have heated up under Burrow. In each of the last two seasons, they went into the bye 5-4 before making runs to back-to-back AFC Championship Games and Super Bowl LVI.
Last year, it was a franchise-record 10-game winning streak that took them back to Kansas City for the conference title game, which they lost on a last-second field goal.
Replicating that run will be difficult this year, as the Bengals have the league’s second-toughest remaining schedule.
Let’s take a look at AFC teams with winning records and their remaining strength of schedule, with the winning percentages of their upcoming opponents, where that ranks in the AFC, and which games are the hardest left based on win percentage.
No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs (6-2)
Remaining strength of schedule: 8th of 16, .507
Toughest games: vs. Philadelphia (Week 10), vs. Miami in Germany (Week 9), vs. Buffalo (Week 14), vs. Cincinnati (Week 17).
Note: The Chiefs play three of their final five at home, and the two road games are against teams with losing records (Patriots and Chargers).
No. 2 Miami Dolphins (6-2)
Remaining strength of schedule: 4th, .547
Toughest games: vs. Kansas City in Germany (Week 10), at Baltimore (Week 17), vs. Dallas (Week 16), vs. Buffalo (Week 18).
Note: Miami is the only team on this list that plays four of its final five games at home.
No. 3 Jacksonville Jaguars (6-2)
Remaining strength of schedule: 10th, .492
Toughest games: vs. Baltimore (Week 15), vs. San Francisco (Week 10), vs. Cincinnati (Week 13), at Cleveland (Week 14).
Note: Jacksonville’s next two are at home, and after that, the Jaguars will not play two in a row at home or on the road the rest of the way.
No. 4 Baltimore Ravens (6-2)
Remaining strength of schedule: 1st, .597
Toughest games: at Jacksonville (Week 15), vs. Miami (Week 17), vs. Seattle (Week 9), at San Francisco (Week 16).
Note: The Ravens and Bills have byes in Week 13, the latest among AFC teams.
No. 5 Buffalo Bills (5-3)
Remaining strength of schedule: 3rd, .588
Toughest games: at Philadelphia (Week 12), at Kansas City (Week 14), at Miami (Week 18), Dallas (Week 15).
Note: The list of the toughest games above doesn’t even include this week’s trip to Cincinnati on Sunday Football. The Bills are 2-3 against AFC opponents, and every loss against the conference is going to make it hard for them to win any tiebreaker.
No. 6 Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)
Remaining strength of schedule: 15th, .459
Toughest games: at Baltimore (Week 18), at Seattle (Week 17), at Cincinnati (Week 12), vs. Cincinnati (Week 16)
Note: It’s easier in the grand scheme of things, but three of their four toughest games are in Weeks 16-18.
No. 7 Cleveland Browns (4-3)
Remaining strength of schedule: 13th, .474
Toughest games: at Baltimore (Week 10), vs. Jacksonville (Week 14), at Cincinnati (Week 18), vs. New York Jets (Week 17)
Note: The Browns only have one division game in their final seven, which is the finale at Cincinnati.
No. 8 New York Jets (4-3)
Remaining strength of schedule: 9th, .506
Toughest games: vs. Miami (Week 12), at Miami (Week 15), at Buffalo (Week 11), at Cleveland (Week 17).
Note: Three of their fourth toughest contests are on the road, where the Jets are 2-12 after October in the last three seasons.
No. 9 Cincinnati Bengals (4-3)
Remaining strength of schedule: 2nd, .592
Toughest games: at Kansas City (Week 17), at Baltimore (Week 11), at Jacksonville (Week 13), vs. Buffalo (Week 9).
Note: Not only are their three toughest remaining games on the road, two are in prime time, and the Bengals haven’t won a road prime-time game since 2012. They haven’t beaten a team with a winning record on the road in prime time since 1985.