The Bengals are in position to make it back to the playoffs for a sixth-straight season, but they cannot afford many more losses for the rest of the season.
Entering Monday night’s game vs the Giants, Cincinnati is 3-4-1, which is essentially 1.5 games behind the 5-4 Ravens for first place in the AFC North. It’s really not even a half of a game because the Bengals and Ravens can’t finish in a tie unless Baltimore has a tie game at some point, so it’s either ahead or behind Baltimore.
A win tonight moves the Bengals to within a game of taking over the division lead, and they still have two games left against the Ravens. You could say the division runs through Cincinnati since, even with a loss tonight, if the Bengals win out and take both matchups with Baltimore and win at home vs Pittsburgh in Week 15, the Bengals would be your AFC North champs.
However, a loss tonight coupled with one or two more losses down the stretch, could hand Baltimore the division by the time they come to Cincinnati in Week 17.
And it looks like it will be all or nothing as far as the Bengals getting in the playoffs. They’ll either win the division and host a playoff game, or they won’t get in at all. The two AFC Wild Card spots are effectively locked in for the AFC West after Week 10.
The 7-2 Chiefs and Raiders along with the 7-3 Broncos are just too far ahead of Cincinnati to not take home both Wild Card spots. The 5-4 Dolphins and Titans are also in the running, so it looks like it’s AFC North champs or the couch for the playoffs.
If the Bengals lose tonight, next Sunday’s game vs the Bills effectively becomes a playoff elimination game. The 4-5 Bills would come to Cincinnati to face a 3-5-1 Bengals team with both clubs needing a win to keep their postseason hopes alive. It’s very hard to see a 4-6 or 3-6-1 team having any shot at the postseason.
Then the Bengals get their first crack at Baltimore in Week 11. Between the Giants, Bills and Ravens, the Bengals badly need at least two wins from those games to have a shot at winning the AFC North. Anything less likely means no playoffs for the Bengals.
All said, Cincinnati could not ask for a better stretch to end their season with their current record. They host the 4-5 Bills, 5-4 Eagles, 4-5 Steelers and 5-4 Ravens while playing at the 0-10 Browns, 5-3 Giants, 6-3 Texans, and Ravens a second time to end the season. If Cincinnati can’t come away with five wins from that bunch, they probably shouldn’t be in the playoffs anyway.
It may very well take only eight wins to win the AFC North. Baltimore plays at Pitt, at New England, at Dallas and at Cincinnati to end season to go with the Eagles, Bengals and Dolphins at home. If they get four wins from that bunch, they probably deserve to win the division, considering how terrible everyone in it has been.
What’s even more amazing is that the entire division has a whopping three wins over teams with winning record. That includes Pittsburgh beating 7-2 Kansas City and 5-3-1 Washington, while Cincinnati beat 5-4 Miami.
And of the combined 12 wins among the four teams in the North, five have come in divisional games, meaning they are is 7-11-1 vs anyone outside the North.
AFC Standings heading into Monday night:
1st Seed: Patriots (7-2)
2nd Seed: Chiefs (7-2)
3rd Seed: Texans (6-3)
4th Seed: Ravens (5-4)
5th Seed: Raiders (7-2)
6th Seed: Broncos (7-3)