The Bengals should be wholly focused on upsetting the home-loving Saints in the Superdome this Sunday, but it's difficult not to look at the schedule of games afterward as well. (But hey, we're writers, not players. We're allowed.) That's because there are three games left on Cincinnati's schedule that are really sticking out as Week 11 of the season fast approaches.
That is, every division game left on their schedule, starting with Week 14 at home against the Steelers, then the away game in Cleveland, and ending in Pittsburgh for the season finale.
The game against the Browns is important, for reason all of us are aware of. Cleveland is (somehow, some way) in first place in the tight AFC North, and although the Bengals have the best division record right now, the Browns own the head-to-head against them. If the season continues the way it's going, and the finish is just as close as where we are now, the two Ohio teams could very well end up with an identical record. If that occurs, then the Browns would be favored for the division if the Bengals are unable to win in Cleveland. If they are, then the Bengals may have an advantage with a 2-1 mark already in that category, opposed to the Browns' 2-2 record thus far.
So, long story short, win that game. Cool, glad that's settled.
As it lately seems to happen more so than not, the AFC North winner may very well be decided by influencing division record tie-breakers or outright record, by the Bengals and Steelers. With just two games separating their two meeting at the end of the season, the Bengals are put in an interesting situation. On one hand, hopefully the injury front is a little less daunting by then, and let's also hope that the defense is able to get its identity figured out before then. On the other, the Steelers have been just as inconsistent as the Bengals this season, dropping games to Cleveland and the Bucs, and then blowing out the Colts and Ravens.
Yes, it's been a strange season. However, don't expect that to be the case when the Steelers play the Bengals. Pittsburgh always plays Cincinnati their toughest, and if the Bengals aren't ready for a grind, then they're not going to come out of either of those game with a win. Both games will probably be the type of AFC North game we're used to. That is, a tight, nail-biting, heart-stopping contest between two playoff contenders.
"Probably" is the key word there. Maybe a better phrase is "should be." Because it all depends on which Bengals team shows up and which Steelers team shows up. And let's be honest with ourselves, Bengals fans, in one way or another, the Steelers always find a way to show up against us.