As Jason pointed out Monday morning, the Cincinnati Bengals are one of three AFC North teams fighting to claim three of six playoff spots this year. With a win this Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bengals will replace Pittsburgh for the fifth seed, which is the conference's first wild card berth. With both teams sporting an identical 8-4 record (again on the condition Cincinnati wins), the teams will have to check-off the list of tie-breaker scenarios for that wild card berth. Since head-to-head record will be split between the two teams, the first tie-breaker is negated. Cincinnati claims the second tie-breaker with a division record of 3-2, dropping Pittsburgh to 1-3 if the Bengals beat the Steelers this weekend.
In the grande scheme of things, a win this weekend isn't so much about beating Pittsburgh... well, alright yes it is. But the added bonus of a win this weekend further secures a playoff spot against the teams tail-gating the Bengals sprint.
Would it be too much of a stretch to write Buffalo out? The Bengals have two more wins than Buffalo right now and hold the head-to-head tie-breaker.
The Denver Broncos are a huge threat at 6-5, especially if the Bengals stumble and force a tie-breaker against Denver that Cincinnati will lose. The New York Jets, also at 6-5, have one team remaining on their schedule with a winning record -- the New York Giants, who are currently losing 42-17 as I'm writing this Monday Night. Might as well write Tennessee into the equation, even though the Bengals own the only tie-breaker that will apply to both teams (head-to-head).
If Cincinnati wins this weekend, with a little stumbling out of the gate by any of the wild card threats behind the Bengals, it will only solidify Cincinnati's position in the 2011 NFL playoffs. But they have to win. And continue winning because while the playoffs are a tremendously gratifying achievement, it would be far more gratifying to win a playoff game.