How big is a win this weekend? The winner of Sunday's matchup between the Bengals and Chargers has a decided advantage as the AFC's second seed in the NFL playoffs. With a win, the Bengals capture the AFC North title, a guaranteed spot in the playoffs and a 10-4 record. On the other hand, combined with a Chargers win and a loss by the Broncos and Patriots, the best Cincinnati can do, in terms of post-season placement, is the third seed.
Now, if the Bengals beat the Chargers, this is where we stand. Both teams are 10-4. The Bengals would hold the second seed because of a head-to-head win. After that, the Bengals only have to keep pace with the Chargers. A loss by either team likely means losing the first round bye.
Presuming that the Bengals take the third seed, they'd host the AFC's sixth seed, which could be the Baltimore Ravens, the Miami Dolphins, the New York Jets or even the Jacksonville Jaguars. Denver is still a possibility, who appears to have firm control of the fifth seed. Oddly enough, if the Bengals beat Baltimore, they'll head back to San Diego in the AFC Divisional Round. As a side note, if we're the second or the third seed, the Bengals wouldn't see the Indianapolis Colts -- a team that Cincinnati hasn't beaten since 1997; Marvin Lewis is 0-3 against the Colts -- until the AFC Championship game.
So how critical is Sunday's game? One, likely they'll play the Chargers again in the playoffs. The Bengals would be better served playing the Chargers in Cincinnati rather than playing in California; a state that hasn't been very kind to the Bengals. A bye week, if the rest of the season plays out the way they need it to, will help guys like Chris Crocker, Bernard Scott and Domata Peko additional time to heal their wounds. And in historical recollection, in 2006 the Bengals were one game away from making the playoffs with three games to go. They missed the playoffs. A win Sunday won't just guarantee a playoff spot, they'd clinch the division and beat a team that most people have largely suggested will be the team that plays the Colts in the AFC Championship game.
No, a win would be huge.