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A Look Ahead: Cincinnati's Playoff Picture

The Bengals win Sunday meant more than just returning to .500. It means the Bengals are that much closer to challenging for the wild card. Again, like last week, we can pretty much assume the first Wild Card will go to the #2 team in the AFC West. With Denver losing last night, the San Diego Chargers took first place and Denver went to leading the Wild Card. This is important because if a Wild Card comes down to San Diego and Cincinnati, then we lose it. We still have to play Denver; who's 2-2 in their past four games but continues to struggle offensively. The Sports Guru concludes after last night's loss to San Diego, "Face it Bronco Fans, Shanny has this team at 7-3 with smoke and mirrors, but the key to magic is never revealing your secrets, and I think Shanny's secret is out." Is it safe to assume that Denver is on the front end of a late season struggle?

So let's assume Denver and Cincinnati finish with the same record and Cincinnati beats the Broncos. That's a legitimate possibility -- especially with the Broncos who plays only one team with a losing record. If all that happens, we jump Denver in the rankings. If the Bengals keep pace with the Chiefs record, we'll beat them out because of the head-to-head win in Week #1. Yes, it's a bit of stretch and a lot of hopeful thinking also. But consider this; last week I was trying to find positives with only one Wild Card spot. Now we have a chance at both. Oh, what a week in the NFL can do to the soul.

Tonight is another game with big Wild Card implications. If the Jaguars lose to the New York Giants, then they fall to .500 and tie the Bengals record. Since the Bengals don't play Jacksonville this season, the "best won-lost-tied percentage in games played in the conference" would break the tie. The Bengals and Jags are tied at 3-3. The next tie-breaker would be record in common games with a minimum of four. The Bengals still have two games of common opponents; the Jags have three. This looks good for Cincinnati as we have one left against a 4-6 Steelers squad and one against the Colts. The Jags still have the Chiefs at Arrowhead and the Colts and Patriots at home. Not an easy road to the playoffs.

Here's the common opponent break-down with the Jags.

Opponent Bengals Jaguars
Steelers Won, 28-20. One left to play Won, 9-0.
Kansas City Won, 23-10 December 31st, 2006
Indianapolis December 18th, 2006 Lost 14-21. One left to play
New England Lost 38-13 December 24th, 2006
WINNING: .667 .500

So sit back and root on the Giants tonight.

Here's another thing: the remaining schedule of the Jets -- also 5-5 -- who I just can't buy as contenders this season.

Nov. 26th Houston (3-7)
Dec. 3rd @ Green Bay (4-6)
Dec. 10th Buffalo (4-6)
Dec. 17th @ Minnesota (4-6)
Dec. 25th @ Miami (4-6)
Dec. 31st Oakland (2-8)
RECORD: 21-39 (.350)

The playoff picture is very much still muddy. However, compared to last week, things are looking a bit more hopeful for the Bengals post-season plans.