After a solid win over Eli Manning and the Giants, and an encouraging, yet expected, victory over the Chiefs, optimistic Cincinnati Bengals fans are contemplating the playoffs. At 5-5 with six games left, it’s not unfathomable that the Bengals could be alive in the postseason. They don’t quite own their own destiny, but with the remaining schedule in the AFC North, it’s certainly a possibility that they will win a wildcard spot.
Barring a catastrophic collapse, the Ravens will win the AFC North. For the Bengals, the job is now to finish second. But second place doesn’t make the playoffs. That’s usually true unless you’re in the AFC North. Two of the last three seasons, the AFC North has had three teams in the playoffs. The other year there were two.
The Bengals will need to beat out the Steelers for second place because the Browns haven’t had a win since the 7- 6 victory over the Chargers in Week 8. The Steelers are one game ahead of the Bengals overall right now but 1.5 games ahead in the conference.
With the Raiders, Chargers, Cowboys, Eagles, Steelers and Ravens remaining on the schedule, the Bengals will need to make an improbable run in order to make the playoffs. They are currently 5-5 and have already had their bye week. Six games remain, two of which are against AFC North opponents. The other four teams combine for a 15-25 record.
Andy Dalton has hit his stride and led the Bengals to back-to-back wins following three straight losses. In the last two games, Dalton has thrown for 429 yards, 6 TD, 0 INT and a QBR of 90.2. Meanwhile, his target AJ Green holds the fourth longest streak in NFL history of games with a touchdown reception at nine.
There are no signs of slowing down for the super sophomore duo. Of the remaining schedule, only the Steelers and Cowboys are in the Top 10 in the NFL in passing defense.
In order to make the playoffs, the Bengals' chances are best if they go 5-1 in these last six games with a loss to the Cowboys at home. Here's a look at how a playoff berth could happen for Cincinnati.
Week 12: Raiders at Bengals
The Raiders game will be interesting as Carson Palmer returns to Cincinnati for the first time since being traded. Palmer has already passed 3,000 yards for the season in his first ten games. After the Ed Reed suspension, I anticipate safeties around the league playing more hesitant the next few weeks, allowing signal-callers like Palmer to capitalize.
However, the Bengals D-Line is getting better every week and with the added emotion of Palmer’s exit from Cincinnati, I expect Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Robert Geathers and Pat Sims, all former teammates of Palmer, to keep pressure in the backfield. Plus the Raiders are 0-3 in games in the eastern time zone this year. The Bengals should take this in a high scoring game. I pick the Bengals win 34-24.
My key matchup: Carson Palmer vs. the Bengals defensive line.
Week 13: Bengals at Chargers
The Bengals should beat the Chargers in Week 13. The Chargers haven’t had a 100-yard rusher all year and quarterback Phillip Rivers has already been sacked 26 times.
In short, their offensive line has some problems.
Rivers showed frustration towards his line at the end of the game against Denver after being met by Elvis Dumervil in the shotgun position almost before the ball arrived from the center. The Bengals should be able to frustrate Rivers into some finger pointing, interception throwing and Bill Cowher-esque scowling before leaving San Diego with a win. Bengals win 20-13.
My key matchup: Phillip Rivers vs. Chargers offensive line
Meanwhile, Week 13, the Steelers travel to Baltimore to play the Ravens. The Bengals need the Ravens to win this game and they should. I have a feeling Roethlisberger will hobble his way back to this field for this game but he won’t be as effective. Flacco will be his consistent, efficient self, Ray Rice will have at least 20 fantasy points and the Ravens will take this one at home. Ravens win 31-10.
My key matchup: Todd Haley, Steelers’ Offensive Coordinator vs. Dean Pees, Ravens’ Defensive Coordinator
Week 14: Cowboys at Bengals
Week 14 the Bengals play the Cowboys at home. The Cowboys have a tendency to give games away this year with turnovers.
The Cowboys’ game against the Redskins on Thanksgiving is a perfect example of how the Cowboys can put up great stats yet lose a game. Romo threw for 441 yards and Dez Bryant had 145 receiving yards. The ‘Boys scored 31 points, but the ‘Skins scored 38.
Against the Bengals, however, the Cowboys will finally pull it all together and play a complete game. It will be surprising, but it’ll happen. Cowboys win 28-17.
This loss to the Cowboys will actually come at a good time. It will end a four game win streak for the Bengals and give them the reality check and focus they’ll need to finish the season strong. They'll need added motivation to turn around in four days and play the Eagles on Thursday night.
My key matchup: Dallas WR (Austin, Bryant, Witten) vs. Bengals DBs (Nelson, Newman, Hall)
Week 15: Bengals at Eagles
Cincinnati should beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night Week 15, 24-15. Coming off a loss to the Cowboys, and the hype of a Thursday night game, the Bengals will muster up enough to get past the Eagles. After the Eagles, the Bengals play Pittsburgh in Week 16.
My key matchup: AJ Green, Bengals WR vs. Nnamdi Asomugha, Eagles DB
Week 16: Bengals at Steelers
Week 16, the Bengals travel to Pittsburgh for the most important matchup for Cincinnati fans all year: Bengals vs. Steelers.
The Steelers beat the Bengals in Cincinnati Week 7, 24-7. In order for the Bengals to have a chance at the playoffs, they have to win this game. As of now, the Steelers are being led by Charlie Batch after Roethlisberger and Leftwich are both out with injuries. The Bengals offense should be running on all cylinders by this game and they need to win. Bengals win 24-14.
My key matchup: Max Starks, Steelers Blindside Tackle vs. Michael Johnson, Bengals Defensive End
Week 17: Ravens at Bengals
The Bengals end their season the same way they started it, playing the Baltimore Ravens.
The Bengals are a very different team from Week 1, as are the Ravens. This game should be much more exciting than the Week 1 44-13 Baltimore blowout. Beating the Ravens will be tough for the Bengals even though the game is in Cincinnati. The Ravens will have a 13-2 record at that point and the Bengals will be 9-6 with the Steelers.
The Ravens will have clinched the division by then already but the Bengals don’t need to have a better record than the Ravens—they need a better record than the Steelers.
In order for that to happen, the unimaginable needs to happen Week 17.
The Browns have to beat the Steelers. If not, the Bengals have to beat the Ravens. If both the Steelers and Bengals lose, they will have split the head-to-head and other, much more complicated, factors would come into play.
My key matchup: Optimism of Cincinnati fans vs. the odds
Can the Bengals make the playoffs this year? Yes. Is it likely? No. In order for this to happen the Bengals and Browns have to beat the Steelers in consecutive weeks. Also, the Bengals need to beat the Steelers and Ravens in consecutive weeks. It’s happened before but given the productivity of the Ravens’ offense and the laughability of the Browns’, I’m not optimistic.
There are obviously many other combinations of factors and results that could alter playoff chances. The Bengals could win the next six games and end the season on an 8-game win streak. The Ravens could lose to the Steelers Week 13, the Bengals Week 17 and change the scope of everything.
All things considered, it’s safe to say that Bengals fans should look forward to the NFL Draft in April because that’s the next big ray of hope that we can look forward to. Regardless of what we know, we’ll still be screaming “Who Dey”, booing Carson Palmer when he enters the stadium and praying that this is the year.
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