The teams directly behind Cincinnati won yesterday, giving the Bengals no more breathing room in the AFC Playoff race. The Jets, who have a fairly easy schedule ahead, and the Broncos, who hold the tiebreaker over Cincinnati, scare me the most. The only good news arrived in the Houston/Jacksonville game. The Texans, who won yesterday and face Cincinnati in two weeks, will likely be starting T.J. Yates at quarterback after losing Matt Leinart to a collarbone injury.
Thus, one game gets a little easier, but Cincinnati has little room for error if the Bengals hope to make the playoffs. And the team still has tough divisional games remaining against Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
At 7-4, Cincinnati may be able to survive one loss, but a second could eliminate them from the playoffs. It all figures to make things rather tense in the week’s ahead. Here’s a look at what the AFC contenders for the final playoff spot have left on their schedules.
Cincinnati (7-4): at Pittsburgh, Houston, at St. Louis, Arizona, Baltimore. Predicted Finish: 10-6
Thoughts: Unfortunately, I see two more losses somewhere on this schedule. The first could come next week. After that, Cincy could win them all, but I think the Bengals’ youth may trip them up somewhere else, perhaps against Baltimore. I hope that I’m wrong. And I also hope that I’m fueling Cincinnati’s underdog motivations, but I’ve been bruised and battered by too many near misses with the playoffs before to predict certain success.
New York Jets (6-5): at Washington, Kansas City, at Philly, New York Giants, at Miami. Predicted Finish: 10-6
Thoughts: Luckily, this schedule is more difficult than I remembered it. With Sanchez under center, there should be another loss here somewhere, maybe two.
Denver (6-5): at Minnesota, Chicago, New England, at Buffalo, Kansas City. Predicted Finish: 9-7
Thoughts: I think Tebowmania won’t be quite enough to carry the Broncos into the playoffs, but you have to admit, the kid’s record should speak for itself. If it weren’t for the New England game on the schedule, Denver might be favored in all the remaining contests. The Broncos pose a real problem with Cincinnati because if the two teams tie, Denver goes to the playoffs via the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Tennessee (6-5): at Buffalo, New Orleans, at Indy, Jacksonville, at Houston. Predicted Finish: 10-6
With Houston’s quarterback position in turmoil, New Orleans is the only game that figures to be a certain loss for the Titans. Thus, Tennessee poses a playoff threat for the Bengals. Fortunately, Cincinnati has the tiebreaker if it comes down to only those two teams.
So there you have it. I see the AFC playoff chase ending with a three-way tie for the final spot. In case you forgot, here are the league’s playoff tiebreakers. The Bengals currently have an edge by having the best conference record, a key tiebreaker, among the Titans and Jets. But everything is subject to change – and those factors could shift as soon as next weekend, if Cincinnati were to lose to Pittsburgh.
A win there for the Bengals and you’d have to think Cincinnati will somehow make it in.
Let’s make it happen.