Why the Bengals are playoff-bound

Andy Dalton and the Bengals, who have won three straight games, are eyeing the playoffs. David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty Images

It's often said that it isn't the team that plays best all season long that will do well in the playoffs -- but rather the team that is playing well heading into the playoffs.

If we use longest current winning streaks as an identifier for the teams that are performing the best right now, for the most part we come up with the usual suspects: the Denver Broncos (six consecutive wins, the longest current streak in the NFL), Houston Texans (five wins), New England Patriots (five wins) and Baltimore Ravens (four wins).

However, that familiarity changes when getting to the next team on the list, the Cincinnati Bengals. Cincinnati started the season by going 3-5 but has since run off three consecutive victories, and its 6-5 record places it in a tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the sixth playoff seed in the AFC (although Pittsburgh has the tiebreak advantage thanks to its win over the Bengals in Week 7).

Cincinnati's current run of success isn't a complete surprise because the Bengals have made the playoffs in two of the past three seasons. But given the strength of the AFC and the somewhat daunting schedule on Cincinnati's future docket -- at San Diego, versus Dallas, at Philadelphia, at Pittsburgh and versus Baltimore -- making it three postseason appearances in four years would be a significant achievement for Marvin Lewis' club.

So, can the Bengals do it?