If the Bengals lose, they'll secure the No. 5 seed and head to Indianapolis for a rematch against the Colts. If Cincinnati wins and the Denver Broncos lose, they'll jump Denver for the No. 2 seed and enjoy a first-round bye (I would love one myself). However, if the Bengals win and Denver beats Oakland (which is what you should expect), Cincinnati will secure the No. 3 seed. Their opponent will be the San Diego Chargers, Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs or the Baltimore Ravens. The beauty of playing on Sunday Night Football is that everything will be decided, save for Cincinnati's seeding.
San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs
Here's the bottom line for San Diego: Win and you're in. That's it. There isn't a "chapter two" to the regular season narrative for San Diego anymore. Win. And you're in. Not that it's easy to win in Kansas City, right? San Diego has won the last two and five out of the last seven at Arrowhead. It's a bit more complicated for Kansas City, who needs to beat San Diego this Sunday and then hope that the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans lose.
Kansas City will be without their starting quarterback, Alex Smith, who has a lacerated spleen. Chase Daniel, who has one career start and 32 career completions, will start for the Chiefs. Daniel may not have their best wide receiver either, with Dwayne Bowe who missed two practices this week with a shoulder.
San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers is in slightly better condition... but only slightly. Rivers reportedly has a bulging disk, which is on "the brink of being herniated", that may require offseason back surgery. Wide receiver Keenan Allen isn't expected to play this weekend after suffering a broken collarbone -- he's listed as doubtful. Running back Ryan Matthews has been out since early December with an ankle and has already been declared out this weekend.
At least the game is being played at Arrowhead.
CHARGERS SCENARIO: A Win
CHIEFS SCENARIO: A win plus a Ravens loss plus a Texans loss or tie
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens
By Friday mid-morning, the Cleveland Browns didn't have a starting quarterback. Johnny Manziel is obviously done for the year and Brian Hoyer hasn't practiced this week with shoulder and bicep issues. Cleveland reportedly signed Connor Shaw, an undrafted quarterback on their practice squad, to a multiyear deal. He's going to start on Sunday.
This will be the 6th time since 2000 that the #Browns have had 3 starting QBs in a season. Only one has one QB started all 16 (Couch, '01)— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) December 26, 2014
Lol. Silly Browns.
Shaw, the winningest quarterback in South Carolina history, had spent the entire season on Cleveland practice squad. Head coach Mike Pettine isn't expecting much.
"You're starting an undrafted rookie quarterback -- I don't think we're going to look to go down there and win one 41-38," Pettine said. "We need to be along the lines of 3-2."
At what point should we start feeling sorry for Cleveland... or at least their fans? I get it. We're Cincinnati. They're Cleveland. It's like they're living in our state without paying rent. We're the Queen City. They're the mistake by the lake. To be honest, had Cleveland not submitted a fairy as their mascot years ago, we'd move on from our petty mocking.
As for the Baltimore Ravens, whose offense may acquiesce Pettine's scoring preference, they need to beat Cleveland and have the Kansas City Chiefs beat San Diego. If the Bengals beat Pittsburgh, and if the Broncos beat the Raiders, Cincinnati will secure the No. 3 seed and play Baltimore for a third time after sweeping them during the regular season.
RAVENS SCENARIO: A win plus Chargers loss or tie OR A tie plus a Chargers loss
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans
Poor Jaguars quarterbacks, who been sacked 66 times this year, leading the NFL by such a significant margin that Jay Gruden would have sabotage the blocking schemes in Washington for the second-place Redskins to catch-up... and with Robert Griffin III starting, well, it's possible. Rookie quarterback Blake Bortles has been sacked four times or more in six consecutive games and 23 times over the last four contests. In addition to being blasted like the director of Birdemic: Shock and Terror (blasted, as in getting drunk and then making a movie), Bortles has thrown three touchdowns since Nov. 2 when he scored twice against the Bengals defense.
As the poor get poorer, the Jaguars offense will face MVP candidate J.J. Watt, who generated seven pass disruptions and four run stops when he played Jacksonville earlier this year. Watt's teammate, quarterback Case Keenum will make his second start of the season this Sunday after starting last week during Houston's 25-13 win over the punchless Ravens. Keenum completed 20 (of 42) passes for 185 yards and an interception for a passer rating of 50.2.
While the Texans have the highest probability to win among those fighting for the six seed, they probably won't make it. After all, the Texans need Connor Shaw's Cleveland Browns and Chase Daniel's Kansas City Chiefs to beat the Baltimore Ravens and San Diego Chargers respectively.
TEXANS SCENARIO: A win plus a Ravens loss plus a Chargers loss