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AFC Playoff Picture: Bengals top Broncos, clinch postseason berth

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It was already decided the Steelers and Bengals would play in Week 17 for the AFC North championship. Cincinnati's Week 16 win over the visiting Denver Broncos clinched a playoff berth for the third straight year.

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The Cincinnati Bengals were six-point home underdogs leading into their Monday Night showdown with the Denver Broncos.

Had oddsmakers known Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning would throw four interceptions, that line may have been a bit different. Manning was battered and confused by a surging Bengals defense, threw two of his picks to Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, one being returned for a fourth-quarter touchdown, the other halting a last-ditch Broncos drive late in the game.

Cincinnati got big plays, seeing an 85-yard touchdown run from Jeremy Hill, and took some steam out of the "Bengals are terrible on prime time" notion. Cincinnati will play Week 17 in prime time at Pittsburgh, with the winner clinching the AFC North title.

The Bengals are also still mathematically alive for a bye in the first round of the playoffs. A Broncos loss at home against Oakland in Week 17 along with a Bengals win over the Steelers would push Cincinnati to the second seed. Denver would clinch the third seed with Indianapolis getting the fourth.

The Steelers clinched one of the five playoff spots that have been sealed already. The last one will come down to a variety of factors involving games played by the San Diego Chargers, Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans. The winner of the Bengals Steelers game will get either the third for fourth seed, and the loser will take one of the wild card spots.

Situations seem to favor the notion of an AFC North playoff game, too. Baltimore only needs to beat a Browns team that is calling up Connor Shaw, an undrafted free agent rookie in 2014 who played for the University of South Carolina. Of course, the Ravens just lost to a Texans team that started their own deep reserve quarterback, Case Keenum, in Week 16.

Oddly enough, Baltimore must win its Week 17 game against Cleveland, but also see the Chiefs knock off San Diego in order to advance to the postseason. The Steelers faced a very similar situation in 2013 (Pittsburgh needed a win from the Jets over the Dolphins as well as a Chiefs win over the Chargers). Kansas City had already clinched a playoff spot, and the Chiefs rested their starters, but still managed to take the Chargers to overtime. San Diego would eventually win and end up knocking off Cincinnati in the division round of the playoffs.