Larry French/Getty Images
If the Cincinnati Bengals defeat the Baltimore Ravens this week, they lock up the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs, and if there's any team on the AFC playoff bubble worthy of earning that spot, it's the Bengals.
Cincinnati was projected to win five or fewer games before the 2011 regular season began, with the fact that they were starting both a rookie quarterback and rookie wide receivers the No. 1 reason for the prediction.
Instead, they've managed a nine-win season and have fallen only to some of the best teams in the NFL.
One of those teams, the Ravens, comes to town this week, and though they've got their playoff spot locked down, they still have much to play for.
A Ravens loss this week in concert with a Pittsburgh Steelers win gives the Steelers the AFC North title and with it the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye. If the Patriots lose, the Steelers win and the Ravens lose, then the Steelers are the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC and have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
What the Ravens really want is that home-field advantage. They've yet to lose a game at home, with all four of their losses this year coming on the road.
That fact bodes well for the Bengals' chances this week, as does the fact that they're fighting for quite a bit more than the Ravens.
Win or lose, Baltimore sees the postseason, but the Bengals are in a must-win situation and will be playing as hard as they are capable to defeat Baltimore and overcome their league-leading defense.
Out of all the teams still in the hunt in the AFC, the Bengals have the best chances to win this week and make the postseason.