Much has been made of the fact that the Bengals only defeated one team that finished 2011 with a winning record, and were winless against the other AFC playoff participants (0-2 versus both Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and 0-1 each versus Houston and Denver). However, it should be noted that:
- Their one victory, over the Titans in Tennessee (who ultimately finished 9-7) is what catapulted them into the postseason and kept the Titans at home.
- The Bengals did not lose to any teams that finished 2011 with a sub-.500 record, but the same cannot be said for many other AFC playoff participants. Baltimore lost to Seattle and Jacksonville, New England lost to Buffalo, Houston fell to the Colts and Panthers, and Denver was beaten by San Diego, Kansas City (twice) and Buffalo. The Steelers are the only other playoff team from the AFC that did not lose to a sub-.500 team in 2011.
- New England, the top seed in the AFC, did not defeat a team in 2011 that finished with a winning record. All of their 13 victories came against teams that finished 2011 at 8-8 or below.
- Houston’s opponents finished 2011 with a composite record of 116-140 (.453). By contrast, Cincinnati’s opponents finished 2011 with a composite 126-130 (.492). Denver actually had the highest winning percentage for opponents in 2011 at 131-125 (.511). The Bengals and Steelers were next at 126-130 (.492), followed by Baltimore at 121-135 (.472), and Houston’s 116-140 (.453). New England’s opponents bring up the rear with an embarrassing 108-132 (.421).
Of the 6 playoff teams, Denver, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh had the most difficult journey. Not surprisingly, they are the three lowest seeded teams in the conference.
New England’s 13-3 record looks a lot less impressive when you look at their opponents. Their losses were to the 6-10 Bills, the 9-7 Giants, and the 12-4 Steelers. Their wins came against Indianapolis, Miami (twice), the Jets (twice), Buffalo, Kansas City, San Diego, Denver, Oakland, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Washington. You have to wonder what Cincy’s record might have been had they drew New England’s schedule, or even Houston’s.
So what have we learned from all of this? What we already knew. The Bengals earned their playoff spot, despite losing to Baltimore in week 17. They were not blessed with quite the cupcake schedule everyone likes to say they did as opposed to other playoff entrants in the conference, and they have just as much right to be in the postseason as anyone else.