Thank goodness for the San Diego Chargers. One week after the Bengals knocked off the Chargers on the road, San Diego did Cincinnati a huge favor by upsetting Pittsburgh Sunday, which essentially allowed the Bengals to even stay in the playoff race.
A lot of electrons have spilled across the interwebs regarding the showdown in Week 16 between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh being a play in game for the postseason. That is what happens when you get two divisional teams tied in the standings facing off in the penultimate game of the season.
But the thing is, that isn’t, and never was, the most likely scenario. A quick scan of tiebreakers and upcoming schedules reveals why the loss to the Cowboys was so costly for Cincinnati, and why the Chargers defeat of the Steelers may have just kept any shred of Bengal postseason hope alive.
Look, anything can happen in the NFL—but let’s just take a look at what is most LIKELY to happen in these final three weeks, outside of the Bengals-Steelers matchup. Cincinnati should win Thursday in Philadelphia, and will be underdogs the final week of the season against Baltimore. That would give the Bengals eight wins, leaving out the Week 16 game. That places huge importance on this week’s game in Dallas for the Steelers. Win, and Pittsburgh would be at nine wins (again, not counting the matchup with the Bengals) if it also beats Cleveland as expected in Week 17.
If those scenarios hold, the Bengals would then need to beat the Steelers Week 16 to finish in a tie at 9-7. But that won’t be good enough. That would give the two teams a split in head to head matchups, and the second Wild Card tiebreaker for teams in the same division is records within that division. If these games go as I have outlined here, Cincinnati would finish 2-4 in the AFC North even with the win at Pittsburgh, while the Steelers would finish 3-3.