Plenty has been said this week about the importance of the winner-makes-the-playoffs showdown for the Bengals when they face their arch-nemesis on their home turf in the bowels of Pittsburgh on Sunday. Steelers week is always exciting, but the added facets of both securing a playoff berth AND eliminating the Evil Empire from the playoffs gives this game a weight that is not easily surpassed.
But don’t forget that another game this week will have a bearing on what happens to the Bengals too, once they deliver the crushing blow to the Steelers that they have received from that team a number of times.
I said a few weeks ago that I have no idea how this week’s matchup bringing the inconsistent New York Giants into Baltimore to face the reeling Ravens. I feel no differently now. Conventional wisdom says to go with the more desperate team, but who exactly would that be? Both have watched their leads over their divisions erode. Neither have looked very good in recent weeks. The one difference is that the Ravens have already guaranteed themselves a playoff spot — even if they lose their final two games (which would make for five straight losses to end the season) they still back in — while the Giants are in trouble of missing the playoffs entirely.
A win by the Ravens means that the best the Bengals can do is a #6 seed. (I am assuming that the Texans will rest guys against the Colts in Week 17.) That would result in a trip to Foxboro, MA to face Tom Brady and the Patriots. The Bengals have a good enough defensive front to make such a match-up a better game than most would expect, but it’s not my first choice by any means.
A fourth straight loss by the Ravens means that if (I mean when) the Bengals beat the Steelers this week, the Week 17 showdown between the Bengals and Ravens will be for the division crown. And how confident is a Ravens team going to be that peaked in October and hasn’t played good football in a month as they face a team that struggled early but has come together to play much better in the second half of the season?
Not only would back-to-back wins over the Steelers and Ravens exorcise more of the deons that have plagued this franchise, but it could set them up as the #4 seed in the playoffs, allowing them to host the Indianapolis Colts. That is still not a gimme game, but it is a better draw than going on the road to play the Patriots.