Heading into Week 13 the Bengals likely needed to win three of their last five games to head to the playoffs. That would require them to have only a winning percentage of 60 percent to play in the post season. If they had beaten the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sunday they would only have to win two of their last four games to go to the playoffs and it would have likely been a guaranteed thing. However, that wasn't the case.
Due to the fact that the Bengals lost on Sunday they now have to win three of their last four games and even thought the opponents remaining on the schedule don't seem to tough, winning three of the last four will be much tougher than it sounds.
This Sunday, the Bengals face the 9-3 Houston Texans at home. The loss of both Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart, the team's two starting quarterbacks, has certainly hurt the Texans but they still pulled off a big win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Third-string quarterback T.J. Yates was able to not turn the ball over against Atlanta and his one touchdown pass was enough to put the Texans on top. The Texans also have Arian Foster in the backfield and they have the league's second-ranked defense. The Bengals catch a break if Andre Johnson has re-injured his hamstring bad enough to miss next week's game but the Texans won't be an easy team to beat.
In Week 15, the Bengals travel to St. Louis to play the Rams. The Rams are 2-10 and haven't been able to do much in the way of winning (or anything good) so far in 2011 but that doesn't mean they'll be an easy team to beat. The Rams have the worst rushing defense in the league, which is good for Cedric Benson, but they have the eighth-ranked pass defense, which won't be as easy to take advantage of. Luckily for the Bengals, it seems that if you can stop Steven Jackson, you stop the Rams. The Bengals are easily capable of stopping Jackson but they haven't won in St. Louis since 1990 (lost there in 2003 and in 1996). The Bengals should come away from this game with a win but things could get out of hand in St. Louis. They did for New Orleans in Week 8.
Then the Bengals host the Cardinals in Week 16. The Cardinals have lost to some decent teams but they've also beaten a few good teams and given some really good teams a scare. Beanie Wells has really turned it on in the last few weeks and while quarterback Kevin Kolb can be inconsistant at times, he has the potential to be good, especially if he gets on the same page with Larry Fitzgerald, one of the more talented receivers in the league. The Bengals have lost two in a row to the Cardinals but they haven't played them since the 2007 season. Once again, this won't necessarily be an easy win for the Bengals.
All three of these games are must wins for the Bengals. If they can win the next three games, they'll likely go to the playoffs as a wildcard team. However, if they falter just once against one of these teams, they'll be forced to beat the Ravens in Week 17. The Ravens may be resting players, especially if they have a set place in the playoffs. I'd rather the Bengals have a set place as a wildcard team heading into their second game against the Ravens than seeing them need to beat the Ravens to get in the playoffs.
With teams like the Denver Broncos, the Tennessee Titans and the New York Jets nipping at the Bengals heals, it would only take one small mistake to really hurt the Bengals' chances at making it to the post season.