The Bengals winning their final two regular season games, paired with some help from around the league could still have the Bengals playing in mid-January.
Here’s your Week 17 rooting guide:
Root for: Stick with me here... the Browns.
Reason: A win on Thursday clinches a postseason berth for Cleveland. If the Baltimore Ravens beat the Miami Dolphins this weekend, Baltimore will secure the top seed in the AFC. If that happens, Cleveland would be out of the running for the No. 1 seed, so they would likely sit their starters against the Bengals in Week 18. Since the Bengals have to win both games, a date with Cleveland’s backups could go a long way.
Root for: The Raiders
Reason: As of now, Indianapolis holds the seventh and final AFC playoff spot. While their record is identical to the Bengals’ 8-7 mark, with Cincinnati holding the tiebreaker, Indianapolis has a better conference record and division record, so they would get the nod. The Raiders are hot, coming off a win against the Kansas City Chiefs. The could help clear the Colts out of the way.
Root for: The Panthers
Reason: Part of the Bengals’ path to the playoffs includes needing one loss from either Jacksonville or Houston in the last two weeks of the regular season. The Panthers aren’t a very good football team, but with Trevor Lawrence once again banged up, there’s always a chance the Panthers could pull off the upset and help the Bengals in the process.
Root for: The Titans
Reason: Similar to the above reasoning, a loss from Houston would be one of the two possibilities that could help the Bengals. With no Tank Dell for Houston, the offense hasn’t looked quite the same. If the Titans, who are playing for pride at this point, can get a division win, that is on more item the Bengals can check off the wish list.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at 4:05pm (Fox)
Root for: The Seahawks
Reason: Other than the natural fiber of your DNA that makes you root against Pittsburgh, the Steelers losing at least one more game is needed to get the Bengals in to the tournament. After trouncing Cincinnati at home, Pittsburgh goes to the West Coast in a hostile environment, facing a team with its own playoff aspirations. We are all honorary members of the 12th Man this weekend.
Of course, all of this only matters if the Bengals are able to go into Arrowhead and beat the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.