Next three weeks are key for Bengals' push

CINCINNATI -- The next three weeks could end up being the most important of the Cincinnati Bengals' season.

Playoff berths are on the line and other postseason prizes are at stake, too. If the Bengals win all of their final games games and end the regular season on a 6-0 winning streak, they have a strong chance at claiming the AFC's No. 2 playoff seeding -- along with the first-round bye and home-field advantage that would come along with it.

Of course, they also need a little help from the current No. 2-seed New England Patriots. Even one Patriots loss in the next three weeks could end up being all the help the Bengals need in order to clinch that coveted spot.

But the Bengals are more focused on other things: namely winning their game Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Beyond that, their focus remains on doing whatever will allow them to clinch a postseason berth. As much as their play recently may have made it seem like they had already wrapped up a playoff spot, the Bengals have not.

In order to receive a playoff berth this weekend, the Bengals need the following to happen:

  • To beat or tie the Steelers on Sunday.

  • A Dolphins loss to the Patriots on Sunday.

In order to clinch their third AFC North title under coach Marvin Lewis this weekend, the Bengals need the following to happen:

  • To beat or tie the Steelers on Sunday.

  • A Baltimore Ravens loss to Detroit next Monday night.

In order to move from No. 3 to No. 2 in next week's AFC seeding, the Bengals need the following to happen (note: they won't be able to clinch the seeding until Week 16 at the earliest):

  • To beat the Steelers on Sunday.

  • A Patriots loss to the Dolphins on Sunday.

As you can see, much remains in flux when it comes to the playoff picture. That's why some players like center Kyle Cook are taking a patient approach to letting the various scenarios play out.

"It's tough. I don't look at it," Cook said. "When somebody says, 'You're in no matter what,' then great. But until that happens, it's too hard with people walking around and saying, 'If this wins and this team loses, then you do this.'

"Hopefully we just keep winning and go from there."

Don't tell Cook, but if you want to play around with some of the scenarios and tiebreaks yourself, be sure to check out ESPN's Playoff Machine. This can be a useful tool for those who do feel like playing the "what if," "if then" game.

Here's a roadmap outlining what the next three weeks look like for the teams the Bengals need to keep the closest tabs on as they look toward what appears to be an immediate postseason future:

Cincinnati Bengals (9-4 overall, 6-0 home, 3-4 road)

Week 15 -- at Pittsburgh, Sunday night

Week 16 -- vs. Minnesota, 12/22

Week 17 -- vs. Baltimore, 12/29

Baltimore Ravens (7-6 overall, 6-1 home, 1-5 road)

AFC North title depends on them

Week 15 -- at Detroit, Monday night

Week 16 -- vs. New England, 12/22

Week 17 -- at Cincinnati, 12/29

Miami Dolphins (6-6 overall, 3-3 home, 3-3 road)

AFC playoff berth this weekend depends on them

Week 15 -- vs. New England, Sunday

Week 16 -- at Buffalo, 12/22

Week 17 -- vs. New York Jets, 12/29

New England Patriots (10-3 overall, 7-0 home, 3-3 road)

AFC No. 2 seeding this weekend depends on them

Week 15 -- at Miami, Sunday

Week 16 -- at Baltimore, 12/22

Week 17 -- vs. Bills, 12/29

Indianapolis Colts (8-5 overall, 4-2 home, 4-3 road)

AFC No. 3/4 seeding could depend on them if Bengals lose last two games

Week 15 -- Houston, Sunday

Week 16 -- at Kansas City, 12/22

Week 17 -- Jacksonville, 12/29