The Bengals are facing the reality of finishing 2014 with a winning record and not making it to the NFL playoffs. After losing at home to the Steelers, Cincinnati is now 8-4-1 with games at Cleveland, at Pittsburgh and vs. the Broncos on Monday Night Football.
None of those games will be easy to win, considering the Browns and Steelers beat the Bengals by a combined 66-24 margin in Cincinnati. Cleveland presents the most winnable game of those three, and it's safe to say it now is a must-win contest for the Bengals' playoff hopes.
The Steelers look to be the favorites to win the AFC North now. They're at Atlanta this week, and then get home games vs. the Chiefs and Bengals. As long as they win two of those three, that will force the Bengals to match them with two wins of their own. Asking this Bengals team to win at Cleveland is hard enough. After the way Pitt came in and won handedly in Cincy, it's hard to see the Bengals returning the favor in Pittsburgh.
As far as Denver goes, do we need to bring up the Bengals' primetime struggles, not to mention their 0-8 mark vs. Peyton Manning?
Basically, the Bengals are going to have to upset someone just to get to nine wins, which is the absolute minimum required to make the playoffs. With the Steelers, Ravens and Chargers all having eight wins, you have to think all three of them make it to at least nine wins, and that's not counting the 7-6 Chiefs, Dolphins, Bills, Texans and Browns lurking.
At the end of the day, if the Bengals are going to make the playoffs for a fourth straight year, they need to win this week.