A premature look at playoff scenarios: Bengals have the second seed in the AFC

With 2:08 left in the fourth quarter, with a 34-28 lead, the New England Patriots take a timeout Sunday night. They were discussing the upcoming punt situation with two yards to go on fourth down at the Patriots own 28-yard line. Everyone was sure of it. Tom Brady was there, talking about personnel and offering his input about a special teams play. Right? He is, after all, Tom freaking Brady. When Brady returned to the field, you flipped your wrist in a gesture to say "get the hell out", you're just trying to draw the defense offsides. Why do teams do that? When the situation is clearly obvious that the quarterback is trying to... Wait. Dan Koppen just snapped it. Wait. Tom Brady caught the snap in shotgun. Wait. Tom Brady is surveying the field. Wait. He threw the pass to Kevin Faulk. Wait. The official marked it short of a first down. Wait. Indianapolis' ball. What. The. Hell. Just. Happened. Did New England just go for it? The lonely echoes of an electronic guitar playing a sad ballard, like in a bar off an Arizona highway, emanate on the Patriots' sidelines.

In the following minute and 44 seconds, Peyton Manning led the offense on a four-play, 29-yard touchdown drive to win the game with 16 seconds remaining. This, by far, led to one of the biggest sessions of Monday Morning Quarterbacking in recent memory. And it's deserved. But the Patriots' justification, who haven't shied away from making similar choices in the past, makes sense. Before the game winning touchdown, Manning led two touchdown drives, both with a time of possession under 2:04, forcing Bill Belichick to conclude that Manning will score from anywhere; a conclusion that every person that's paid by the NFL and all of their teams have reached. If the Patriots had picked up the first down, the game is over.

From a Bengals fan perspective, that missed fourth down conversation gave the Bengals sole possession of the second seed in the AFC. Granted, it doesn't mean much with seven games remaining. But they are in sole possession of the second seed. Let that digest for a moment. Go ahead, lean back in your chair, interlock your fingers behind your head and grin like only maddening fans of a team with decades of futility can grin. If the playoffs were to start today -- yes, yes, I know they don't -- the Bengals would have a bye week and host at least one home game.

In the meantime, the Bengals are still a trap game away from losing everything they've earned so far. Let's take a look at the Bengals and Steelers remaining schedule.

Side-by-side comparison of the Bengals and Steelers remaining schedule
Date Opponent   Date Opponent
Nov 22 @ Oakland   Nov 22 @ Kansas City
Nov 29 Cleveland   Nov 29 @ Baltimore (SNF)
Dec 6 Detroit   Dec 6 Oakland
Dec 13 @ Minnesota   Dec 10 @ Cleveland (TNF)
Dec 20 @ San Diego   Dec 20 Green Bay
Dec 27 Kansas City   Dec 27 Baltimore
Jan 3 @ NY Jets   Jan 3 @ Miami

NOTES:

  • If the season were to end today. The Steelers and Chargers would be the wild card and the Patriots would host the Steelers during the first weekend. If the Broncos beat the Chargers and the Steelers beat the Patriots, Cincinnati would host the Steelers in the playoffs... again. If the Broncos and Patriots win opening playoff weekend, the Bengals would host the Broncos... again.
  • The Bengals could find themselves in trouble if the Denver Broncos lose the AFC West to the San Diego Chargers and say another team, like the Houston Texans made a run for the playoffs. The Bengals would lose the tie-breaker to the Broncos and Texans because Cincinnati lost the head-to-head meeting to both teams.
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