We can't express how timely Cincinnati's bye week arrived this week: Their offense appears emotionally exhausted, shouldering the blame for two losses in the last three games. The defense has been physically battered, though playing at high enough level that's helped snapped Cincinnati's two-game losing streak.
While sitting back and enjoying their fortunate position in the division standings, others will play meaningful games. The Browns and Steelers aim to challenge Cincinnati for the AFC North. The Ravens and Jets will be playing a critical game for the second wild card spot, which could result in the head-to-head tiebreaker and, if the Ravens win, a problem for Cincinnati who lost to Baltimore two weeks ago.
Cincinnati will check those games out, but they have their own schedule to be concerned with.
Week 13 (Dec. 1) at San Diego Chargers. Their story started out as some "Philip Rivers comeback" season but quickly depressed into your typical San Diego story. They've had losses against bad teams like Houston, Tennessee, and Oakland, while also suffering defeats to the Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins. With the Kansas City Chiefs on tap for this Sunday, the Chargers could be facing a four-game losing streak by the time they host Cincinnati in December. San Diego is .500 at home this year, where the Bengals won last year 20-13.
Week 14 (Dec. 8) vs. Indianapolis Colts. A game that could have the greatest impact in terms of seeding, this meeting of I-74 foes is circled as one of the biggest games during Cincinnati's final five-game stretch. Assuming that Cincinnati wins the AFC North, they'll need to secure tiebreakers against other division winners to claim seeds. They've already beaten the New England Patriots and a win over the Colts, in Cincinnati, isn't far-fetched. In the past three weeks, Indianapolis edged wins against the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans, while also being blown out by the St. Louis Rams. In other words, the Colts have been struggling against inferior teams since their impressive 39-33 win over the Denver Broncos in week seven.
Big Wins: Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos
Tough Losses: St. Louis Rams, Miami Dolphins
Week 15 (Dec. 15) at Pittsburgh Steelers. It's only appropriate that week 15 could be the weekend that Cincinnati clinches their first AFC North title since 2009. Last year, the Bengals won a thriller in week 16 to secure a postseason berth while eliminating the Steelers. Cincinnati clearly controls their own destiny in the division and the Steelers are on the rise, winning consecutive games. Despite being tied with the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens in the standings, Pittsburgh, in our view, is the biggest threat (right now).
Week 16 (Dec. 22) vs. Minnesota Vikings. With the lone exception of compiling wins for the team's overall record, the biggest impact this game will have is a tiebreaker for common opponents. That will only apply for the AFC North championship as Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Baltimore were the only AFC teams to play the NFC North. Minnesota is arguably the worst team in the NFC and they're currently 0-5 on the road.
Week 17 (Dec. 29) vs. Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore has lost four of their previous five games, with Cincinnati being their lone win since mid-October. They haven't won back-to-back games since weeks 2-3. It's possible that this game determines the AFC North or, at the very least, a wild card spot for Baltimore. However, it could equally be irrelevant. Every year that the Bengals have won the AFC North, they've secured their position in the playoffs prior to the regular season finale (Kansas City in 2005 and New York in 2009) allowing their starters to rest.