The Cincinnati Bengals have to win their final two games at home against the Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens to have a chance to make the postseason.
That's what they can control.
What they can't control are the New York Jets, who may have a record identical to the Bengals' at 8-6, but hold the tiebreaker because they own the better record against common opponents. That's why the Bengals will have one eye in New York next week for the Jets' matchup against the New York Giants.
Confused? Luckily, Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer is able to explain this complicated situation:
Currently you have to go to tie-breaker No. 3 which is win percentage against common opponents. The Jets are 3-2 against Jacksonville (win), Buffalo (two wins), Baltimore (loss) and Denver (loss) while the Bengals are 2-2 with the one game against Baltimore remaining. If both teams win out their final two games they will finish even in this category and have to move on down to Tiebreaker No. 4, which is strength of victory. Simply put, it’s how many games the teams you have defeated won. The Jets currently hold a 10-game advantage; teams they have beaten are 43-69 while the Bengals’ strength of victory is 33-79.
Week 15 couldn't have worked out better for Cincinnati.
They beat the St. Louis Rams to improve their record to 8-6, while three other teams fighting for the final Wild Card spot all lost. The Jets were embarrassed by the Philadelphia Eagles 45-19, the Tennessee Titans gave the Indianapolis Colts their first win, 27-13, to fall to 7-7, and the Oakland Raiders blew a huge lead against the Detroit Lions, losing 28-27 to lower their record to 7-7.
Right now, the Bengals are seventh in the conference with the potential to finish the season 10-6, which still might not be good enough to make the playoffs. That all changes if the Jets slip up against the Giants in a "home" game or on the road against the Miami Dolphins in Week 17.
It's going to be a wild final two weeks of the season with the playoff positioning surely to be reshuffled, but the Bengals are in a much better situation then the vast majority of the AFC.
Who knows how everything turns out, but I'm pretty sure nobody in their right mind believed that the Bengals would be playing relevant games this late into the season.
The book is still wide open on the 2011 Bengals.