The Bengals have their NFL postseason fate in their own hands with three weeks left in the regular season. A win Sunday night at Pittsburgh could secure at least an AFC Wild Card spot and set them up to clinch the AFC North division title, depending on the outcomes of a couple of other games.
Cincinnati (9-4) has a two-game lead on Baltimore (7-6). A win for the Bengals against the Steelers would put the Ravens, who play at Detroit on Monday night, on the brink of division title contention elimination. If both teams win, Baltimore would still have a shot at a third consecutive division championship. The Ravens own a 20-17 win in overtime against the Bengals this season and the teams play again at Paul Brown Stadium in the regular season finale on Dec. 29.
Baltimore currently holds the No. 6 seed and final playoff spot in the AFC. Miami is also 7-6 but lost to the Ravens, 26-23, on Oct. 6.
Miami hosts New England on Sunday. The Bengals would have a chance to benefit regardless of who wins that game. If Miami loses and the Bengals win, Cincinnati clinches a playoff berth for the third straight season and for the fourth time in the last five seasons. If Miami beats the Patriots, a Bengals’ win in Pittsburgh would put them in the driver’s seat for the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
The Bengals are currently the No. 3 seed, one game behind New England (10-3) for the No. 2 spot behind Denver (11-2). Cincinnati’s 13-6 win against New England on Oct. 6 give the Bengals the advantage over the Patriots in a head-to-head tiebreaker situation.
The top two teams in the AFC and NFC receive first-round byes.
“It would be good if we could get the bye week. Either way, though, we’ve just got to keep playing football,” said Bengals cornerback Adam Jones. “It’s always good to get the bye knowing you’ve only got two more games before the big game but we’ve just got to keep working, sticking to the system. But it would be really good to get the bye, get a week to rest, get your legs and stuff back. We’ll see how it goes.”
Should the Bengals tie against the Steelers and Miami and/or Baltimore loses, it would act the same as a win in terms of clinching a postseason berth. Ties are considered half-wins in the standings, so a 2 1/2-game lead with two games left to play would be insurmountable for either the Dolphins or Ravens to overcome.