Heading into Sunday’s game the Cincinnati Bengals were two games out of first place in the AFC North, with the Baltimore Ravens hosting the Denver Broncos, and the No. 7 seed behind the Pittsburgh Steelers, who played in what sounded like a home crowd in Dallas. When the weekend concluded, the Bengals replaced the Steelers for the No. 6 seed (at least for this week) and have realistic chance to claim more than what we had thought possible last month.
AFC NORTH CHAMPIONSHIP
Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos won their ninth game of the season, beating Baltimore 34-17, reducing the Ravens lead to one game over the Cincinnati Bengals for the AFC North Championship. In this scenario, if the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Pittsburgh Steelers next week and if the New York Giants defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bengals and Ravens will play for the AFC North championship in Week 17.
Also of note, the Ravens have clinched a postseason berth with Pittsburgh's loss to the Cowboys.
Let's write this up as the most desirable outcome. But as we'll preach for the next week, everything goes through Heinz field. A loss next weekend doesn't eliminate the Bengals, but it makes it extremely difficult.
No. 5 Seed: Personally I believe that the No. 5 seed is a little farfetched, largely because the Indianapolis Colts have two things working for them. The Kansas City Chiefs next week and a Houston Texans squad who may have already secured homefield advantage by Week 17. Even if the Bengals and Colts finish with identical records, the Colts have superior tiebreaker scenarios.
The first tiebreaker between both teams is winning percentage in the conference and the Colts have a one game lead (6-4) over the Bengals (5-5) against the AFC. Both teams have two AFC games remaining with the Colts playing the Chiefs and Texans and the Bengals playing the Steelers and Ravens, so there's nothing really gained on prognosticating the final two weeks.
But what the hell. The next tiebreaker is record against common opponents:
|Kansas City Chiefs||1-0||Week 16|
Essentially the Bengals need the Chiefs to beat the Colts while Cincinnati beats the Steelers, neutralizing the first two tiebreakers heading into Week 16. The next tiebreaker is strength of victory, which is bad news for the Bengals, currently at .339 while the Colts have a .387 SoV.
No. 6 Seed: We've been saying for three weeks now that Week 16 between the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers is essentially the game that will either get Cincinnati into the postseason or desperately requiring miracle-like scenarios to develop.
Everything goes through Heinz field.
Yet with the Cowboys defeating the Steelers on Sunday, a win next Sunday means that the Bengals not only secure the No. 6 seed (maybe clinch it based on the Jets), they’ve eliminated the Pittsburgh Steelers from the postseason.
Though some are irresponsibly deflecting this weekend's games -- the Bengals win over the Eagles and the Steelers loss to the Cowboys -- what actually happened was that the number of implications for Week 17 have been substantially reduced. Dallas' win on Sunday means that if the Bengals beat the Steelers, Pittsburgh is gone.
If they had beaten Dallas, the only major feat that the Bengals accomplish next weekend was neutralize the first tiebreaker, still required to beat the Ravens if the Steelers beat the Browns. Now that scenario has been eliminated.
The Jets Are Still A Problem: Beat the Steelers next weekend and eliminate Pittsburgh, sure. But if the Bengals fail to beat the Ravens in Week 17 and the New York Jets win-out, the Bengals are out because the Jets win the tiebreaker for best win percentage in conference games.