Thank you, Tim Tebow.
By beating the Jets on Thursday night, the Broncos opened the door for the AFC North to send three teams to the playoffs. That means the Bengals have the inside track for being the 6th seed even if they go 0-4 against the Steelers and Ravens.
With 7 games left, something unexpected could happen between now and the end of the season. But let’s look at how things are likely to break as the season finishes out.
Since the Bengals have not struggled to beat the bad teams like the Ravens have, beating the teams that they should beat — the Browns, the Rams and the Cardinals — puts them at 9 wins. So one win against the Texans, the Steelers, or the Ravens (in two opportunities) gives them the 10 wins that should get them into the postseason. That is certainly plausible, with the most likely candidate being a win over the Leinart-led Texans.
Obviously, should the Bengals drop a game to one of the first 3 teams or lose all of the games to the latter 3 teams, then this probably becomes a moot point. For today I am assuming the Bengals finish at 10-6, 3rd in the AFCN and the #6 seed, with the Ravens and Steelers both also at 10-6 or better.
The next closest teams are the Bills and the Titans, who are both 5-4. The Bengals own the tie-breaker against both by beating both of them. So to make the playoffs, either of them would have to go 6-1 in their final 7 games to finish at 11-5. How likely is that to happen? (They both won’t, since they play each other in a couple of weeks.)
The Bills have yet to play these teams: Dolphins (twice), Jets, Titans, Chargers, Broncos and Patriots. I don’t see them beating the Pats in Foxboro, and I don’t like them against the Titans or the Chargers in SD.
The Titans have yet to play these teams: Falcons, Bucs, Bills, Saints, Colts, Jaguars and Texans. I don’t see the Titans beating the Saints, and I have a hard time seeing them beating both the Falcons and the Texans. But I can see them being 10-6 but the odd man out.
The one other consideration in all of this is, amazingly enough, the suddenly winning Broncos. With a win over the Bengals, a 10-6 Broncos team that does not win the AFC West (and it is hard to picture two AFCW teams at 10-6 or better right now) would bounce the Bengals from the playoffs. The Broncos would need to go 5-1 over these teams: Chargers, Vikings, Bears, Patriots, Bills and Chiefs. OK, forget that. No way do the Broncos beat the Pats or the Bears.
Again, a lot can happen in 7 games. But things stand now, this has the best chance of coming about:
- Ravens / Steelers (AFCN winner)
- AFCW winner (good luck picking that one)
- Ravens / Steelers
Remember, all of this could come about without a win over Pittsburgh or Baltimore. Any wins over them that the Bengals can grab only pushed them up this list! Whodey!