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Bengals mail: What will it take to make playoffs?

CINCINNATI -- We're starting to get into that time of year when the playoff chase dominates the NFL news cycle.

That's a good thing.

Why? Because that's what teams play for each year, right? For them, the whole point of the regular season is to be one of the lucky 12 that survives and advances into the postseason all the way to final game of the league year. As we start getting closer to seeing which teams have legitimate chances of seeing their goals fulfilled, the season gets more fun and more dramatic.

So, what will it take to get the Bengals into the postseason? We attempt to answer that very question to kick off this week's Cincinnati Bengals mailbag:

@ColeyHarvey: In my most humble opinion, Erik, AFC teams have to convince themselves it will take 10 wins in order to be among the 12. In the Bengals' case, it might be more like 9.5. (Their overtime tie with the Panthers counts for half a win). If I'm Cincinnati, though, I still have to make 10 wins the goal. The AFC North is so good this year, and is particularly effective against teams outside the division. With three of their final games coming against division foes, the Bengals will have a difficult remaining road. But they already own the tiebreaker over the Ravens, and again, have the benefit of that extra half-win. If you get to 10 wins and are one of the top two seeds in football's toughest division, to me, you're a lock for the playoffs. Check out ESPN's "Playoff Machine" to see some of the scenarios that could get the Bengals into the postseason.

@ColeyHarvey: I'm assuming you're referring to A.J. Green here, Jack. I can't say that he's back to his "old" self, mainly because he's going to continue dealing the rest of the season with that balky big toe that has been problematic all season. As you know, that injury sidelined him three games, and it took him two before he showed some signs of his old self. Without a doubt, he had one of his best games of the season last Sunday at New Orleans when he caught six passes for 127 yards and the fourth-quarter touchdown that put the game out of reach. A large part of his success stemmed from the Saints leaving him single-covered after sinking up to protect against a Bengals running game that had been effective all day. Green also responded quite positively to challenges offensive coordinator Hue Jackson issued him in previous days. To keep showing glimpses of his Pro Bowl self, Green needs Jackson and the run to keep helping.

@ColeyHarvey. Ha, this must be the weekend for curiosity about getting Pro Bowl players back to form. Seriously, though, good question, CoachQuis. I'd argue that yes, Vontaze Burfict can get back in form. He has a better chance than Green after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery three weeks ago to clean out his leg. Although he still is recovering from the procedure -- the first surgery he's ever had -- he should be able to run and cut much better than he did in the Jaguars game earlier this month when he got his knee twisted up ahead of the surgery. After the first-quarter injury, he finished the afternoon. With a healthy Burfict, yes, playoff chances improve. Without him, the Bengals miss a lot: leadership, communication and intimidation.

@ColeyHarvey. Speaking of linebackers ... Mike, I'd agree that Rey Maualuga's return last week could provide a big jolt against not only zone-blocking rush offenses, but other schemes, too. He's one of the Bengals' best run stoppers, and as we saw last week, his presence alone can force running backs to run into other defenders. Maualuga only had three tackles last week -- including one vs. a pass -- but he fit perfectly in his run gaps, forcing ball carriers to extend plays where other Bengals were waiting. If the Bengals are to build upon their 74-yard rush defense performance last week, Maualuga certainly will be among the biggest reasons why.

@ColeyHarvey. Easy answer, Josh. Marvin Jones won't be back this year. He went on season-ending injured reserve back in Week 6. So for this season, yes, Mohamed Sanu has taken his job. The two won't have another chance to battle for the role of No. 2 receiver until next training camp. Have to figure this time around, Sanu will enter as the front-runner for the job after his solid work relieving Green at times this year.

@ColeyHarvey. Will, it is really early to tell what exactly the long-term plan will be for AJ McCarron. But I'll say this: it's clear the Bengals have him around as a backup plan. He won't be traded anytime soon and he won't be released, either. They're going to groom him into the backup role across the next three seasons. It'll be interesting to see what happens by the 2016 season if Andy Dalton struggles, though. If McCarron has come along by then, Dalton's contract does permit the Bengals to let him go if they favor McCarron. Will that scenario happen? It's hard to see it playing out that way right now, but you never know ...

@ColeyHarvey. Darqueze Dennard doesn't get more time on defense because he's down on the depth chart below three really good veteran cornerbacks. Of course, you saw him sneak onto the field for 14 plays last week against the Saints, and he looked good. I wouldn't be surprised if coaches at some point revisited the "give Leon Hall's Achilles a rest" tactic and give Dennard more time. Hall hasn't looked good much this year, and Dennard is a rookie with promise. They'll want to give him opportunities. But for the time being, he's just another first-rounder playing behind four others.