With both the Chiefs and the Titans winning their games, the best possible scenario would have been a No. 3 seed. Then their opponent would have been the Patriots instead of the Raiders if the Bengals had won.
Either way, the Bengals would be favorites to win their first playoff game in 30 years.
The Bengals chose the conservative route and rested a lot of starters. They ended up losing, but they will be fresh for the playoffs.
The Raiders, on the other hand, had to play all of their starters on Sunday, and their starters had to go all out for the entire 70 minutes after it took a full overtime period to decide the winner.
The Bengals get an opponent they already beat in Week 11, and by 19 points. That was the Joe Mixon game, in which Joe Burrow passed for a career-low 148 yards.
There’s not much to learn in a game like this. The outcome wasn’t important, and unlike the preseason, the events in this game don’t have much bearing on the future of the season.
Before the Bengals take the field at Paul Brown Stadium for the playoffs, here are the few things we learned from their loss to the Browns:
Mike Daniels will be ready to go
The Bengals called up eight players from the practice squad and fielded more backups on top of that. None stood out more than Mike Daniels.
The Bengals brought in Daniels last year to help relieve a thinning defensive tackle corps. He didn’t make the active roster this year after the Bengals brought in Larry Ogunjobi and B.J. Hill.
Daniels played in 123 games going into this season after a long career in Green Bay that ended in a Pro Bowl.
Ending up on the practice squad was not in his plan for the year, but he put his nose to the grindstone. He finally got to play in a game that was for all intents and purposes meaningless.
Daniels got five tackles, one for a loss, and was moving offensive linemen around all day.
Zac Taylor said that Josh Tupou is week-to-week with a knee injury, so that means Daniels is could be the next man up.
Brandon Allen will need some help
Brandon Allen was less than impressive in his only start this year.
Going into this game, Allen was only 2/5 with 13 yards and a touchdown. While he had limited reps in garbage time, he hadn’t looked as sharp as he did at times last season.
Against the Browns, he completed 51% of his passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. Only one drive exceeded more than 41 yards, and the Bengals only scored nine points on offense. When they needed a good play from Allen the most, he threw an absolute dud on the two-point attempt.
In fairness to Allen, he was playing against much of the Browns’ first team defense with the Bengals’ second-team offense. He only had Ja’Marr Chase for five plays, and while he had a couple starters on the offensive line, they had to defend against Jadeveon Clowney and Myles Garrett.
Still, if the Bengals need Allen at all in the playoffs, they’ll face defenses as good as, or better than, the Browns.
In short, if the Bengals need Allen to win them the game, then we’ll likely be talking about another playoff loss.
The offensive line still needs work
Among other disappointing performances were Hakeem Adeniji and Isaiah Prince.
Yes, they had to play against the Browns’ starters on defense that have multiple Pro Bowls under their belts. But Maxx Crosby had two sacks, three tackles for a loss, three passes defended, and six total tackles against the Chargers in Week 18, so things won’t get easier for them.
With Riley Reiff out for the year, Prince is the current starter at right tackle. Adeniji has already been named the right guard across from Quinton Spain.
Burrow will be rested and refreshed, but the right side of the offensive line will have trouble keeping him that way.
If Adeniji and Prince are the best options at those spots, then Crosby could be in for a huge day Saturday.