Sometimes the best things that can happen to NFL teams occur on a day when the players aren't even taking the field. Such was the case on Sunday when the Cincinnati Bengals received some big help from the New York Jets and, the unlikeliest of friends, the Baltimore Ravens. The former beat the New England Patriots in overtime to give Cincinnati life for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, while the latter cemented yet another AFC North title for Marvin Lewis with a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
With the regular season still yet to play itself out and the Bengals' postseason foes unknown, excitement is still permeating through the team and Who Dey Nation. Those in the Wild Card slots entering the final week of the regular season seem beatable, while a bye could exponentially help the rehab of Andy Dalton's fractured thumb. Regardless of what transpires over the next week, the Bengals will be hosting at least one playoff game.
There are a number of scenarios to potentially play out making the 2015 tournament exciting for a potential Bengals run to and through the Super Bowl. Given the history of this franchise, though, it's hard to get ahead of ourselves to predict wins in the postseason because of it being the major hurdle to these past five years being the a true NFL dynasty. Still, it's fun to daydream and envision a euphoric storyline for these long-embattled Bengals.
Let's have a look at some of the ways the postseason could play out for Cincinnati. Share your thoughts on scenarios and your ideal matchups below!
Scenario One, Easy Street:
The lower seeds of the AFC bracket seem to present very winnable scenarios, with the final three seeds being comprised of the Texans, Chiefs and Jets, respectively. Nothing is guaranteed in the postseason and the Bengals have taught us that lesson well over the past six postseason appearances by the club, but these teams seem to provide the most sure route to their first playoff win since the 1991 season.
Sure, the Bengals lost to the Texans at home six weeks ago and lost back-to-back playoff games against them in 2011-2012, but the overall talent level is disparate and Houston might have to charge through the postseason with Brandon Weeden under center. The Bengals hosted the Chiefs back in early October, when Jamaal Charles was still healthy, and handed them a beating. Kansas City is on a massive hot streak, but they are putting it together with duct tape and bubble gum, as evidenced by Alex Smith's 125 passing yards against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
New York seems tricky. Sometimes they can look like a five-win team, but when they're motivated they can beat anyone. Even so, a home game against Ryan Fitzpatrick and a rookie head coach seems to bode well for Cincinnati. If the Bengals were to get a lucky roll of the dice and face two of these teams on the way to the Super Bowl, it seems like an ideal path.
This could also be deemed the "Non-Steelers route", for the hardened Bengals fans who don't want to see Pittsburgh in the playoffs.
Scenario Two, Beating NFL Legends:
On a much tougher road to the Super Bowl, the Bengals could face an NFL legend. Should Peyton Manning get healthy, it's assumed he would take over the reigns from Brock Osweiler for the Denver Broncos. Given both team's seedings, it would likely have to be a matchup in the AFC Championship game, where beating Manning in such a game would cement Cincinnati legacies.
In a similar situation, the Bengals could face Tom Brady and the Patriots on their way to the Lombardi Trophy. Depending on how the AFC seeding plays out over the next week, it's likely that a Cincinnati/New England matchup would also be in the AFC Championship round. If the Bengals were to make the Super Bowl by beating Manning and/or Brady, wouldn't that be something?
Oh--did we mention that Cincinnati only has one win against each guy in their illustrious, long-tenured careers?
Scenario Three, Poetic Justice:
Of all of the different possibilities in the postseason, this one might be both the most satisfying and far-fetched. With their loss to the Ravens on Sunday, the Steelers' playoff chances are hanging by a thread. They have to beat the Browns in the regular season finale, while also needing help from the Bills to beat the Jets. But, something tells us that Pittsburgh will still be around come playoff time. They just know how to get into the dance, don't they?
The bad blood between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati really boiled over in the rematch two weeks ago where Steelers defenders injured two of the most important Bengals' offensive players in tight end Tyler Eifert and quarterback Andy Dalton went down seconds later. What if those two are back healthy and the Steelers return to Paul Brown Stadium again, with the stakes at their highest in the playoffs? What if the Bengals were able to slay the ultimate demon by beating the big, bad Steelers--a team they have struggled against, at home in Cincinnati?
Then, there's the Super Bowl. The NFC has seemingly come down to a two-horse race between the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals, with the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks still waiting in the weeds. If the Cardinals can handle their foes the same way they beat down the Packers in Week 16, they will be in the big game. Imagine a situation where the Bengals have a chance to become World Champions by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers and then the Cardinals led by scorned ex-quarterback Carson Palmer.
For those old enough to remember the Bengals in the 1970s and 1980s, the team made a critical mistake by letting offensive guru Bill Walsh get away. While the decision eventually led Paul Brown to turn coaching duties over to fan-favorite, Sam Wyche, Walsh made Cincinnati pay twice in the 80s with Super Bowl wins. By defeating Palmer in the big game, they might be able to remedy some of those ghosts left by Walsh, while also bringing a smile to Mike Brown's face.
Have a little fun for the moment and think about what could be, even though these Bengals know how to break their fan base's hearts. Oh, the possibilities.