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Cincinnati Top-Seeded In AFC Playoff Chase With Chance Sunday To Clinch North Division Crown

Marvin Lewis' squad is the top seed in the hotly contested AFC playoff chase following Sunday's win over the Browns and the Patriots' loss to the Eagles.

The Bengals are No. 1.

Yes, indeed. In the AFC.

The Bengals moved into the top spot when New England lost to Philadelphia, after the Bengals beat the Browns.

New England fell to third, behind No. 2 Denver. Like the Bengals, the Patriots and Broncos sport 10-2 records, but the Bengals gain the upper hand and win the tiebreaker based on best winning percentage in conference games.

Cincinnati is 8-1 in the AFC, the second-best conference mark in the NFL behind the NFC's unbeaten Carolina Panthers (8-0). New England is 7-1. Denver is 6-2, but wins the tie-break over the Patriots based on head-to-head win percentage.

All the Bengals have to do to maintain their stranglehold on the top AFC spot is win the rest of their games, which puts them in control of their own fate.

“We just have to continue to do what we’ve done," Lewis said. "Put your head down and go to work. Take care of the plan as we see it, understand it, and implement it. Let’s go through it, and work it on Sunday. That’s as simple as it can be.”

If the Bengals remain the top seed, they would earn a first-round playoff bye and host a second-round game at Paul Brown Stadium, with a win there putting them in the AFC championship game.

The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since 1990. They are 0-6 in the postseason under Lewis, 0-4 with quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green the focal points of the offense.

They are, however, placing themselves in the most advantageous spot to do so this season by putting up the AFC's best record, albeit currently tied with two others, and beating teams that they're supposed to.

With a win Sunday against the Steelers (7-5), the Bengals can clinch their second AFC North Division crown in three years and franchise-record fifth straight postseason berth. They are seeking their fourth AFC North title in 11 years.

"They were the AFC North champions last year. In order to be AFC North champions, it’s probably fitting that you have to beat the defending AFC North champions," Lewis said of the Steelers. "We have that opportunity.”

The Bengals hold a three-game divisional lead over the Steelers with four games to play. A win Sunday would give them a four-game lead over Pittsburgh with three games to play.

Do the math, Steelers fans.

“We know it’s a division game, and our division is physical," said Lewis. "We just played one (against Cleveland), and we are going to have to play another one on Sunday in order to beat the Steelers.”

In addition to the top three seeds, there are six other AFC teams that can finish with at least 10 wins, making it likely that whomever the Bengals face in the playoffs will be a tough opponent intent on extending their postseason win drought to 25 straight years.

As they say, stay tuned.

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