The Bengals will be without a number of key players including both Joe Burrow and Trey Hendrickson. Burrow is sitting out for a week of rest before the postseason, while Hendrickson is among a handful of players on the COVID-19 list.
The stripes will be short-handed in an important divisional game this Sunday.
Seeding implications are at stake in Cincinnati Bengals vs. Browns matchup
While Cincy has already been dubbed the King of the North, this game is still vital for seeding in the playoffs. At 10-6, the Bengals hold the three seed in the AFC conference. Believe it or not, Cincinnati is still alive for the one seed. If both the Titans and Chiefs were to lose this weekend, the AFC will run through The Jungle with a Cincinnati win.
Tennessee will be at the Texans while Kansas City travels to Denver. Houston defeating the Titans is extremely unlikely and the Chiefs will probably avoid back-to-back losses. However, crazier things have happened in the NFL this season. With a win, the Bengals could at least move up to a two-seed if one were to lose.
Elsewhere in the AFC, the Patriots and Bills are both alive for the AFC East. The Pats would need a win as well as a Buffalo loss to clinch the division, while the Bills can clinch with a win. New England faces the Dolphins and the Bills battle the Jets. The result of the AFC East could impact the Bengals’ first-round opponent.
More than likely, at least one of the Pats or Bills will win this weekend. Either one at 11-6 would pass Cincy if they lost to the Browns. Cincinnati would then drop to a four seed and face the best wildcard squad — which will likely be the Bills, Pats, or Colts.
The nightmare scenario could be Cincinnati loses and holds the fourth seed and faces the Patriots in the first round. Battling Bill Belichick in the postseason is never favorable for any team. With a higher seeding, the Bengals could clash with the Chargers, Raiders, Colts, or Steelers. Any of the listed teams would be a better matchup for the good guys in comparison to the Pats or Bills.
At the moment, any playoff spot can change in the AFC this weekend with only five teams clinched going into the conclusion of the regular season. With that said, the Bengals must absolutely fight for a win over the Browns. Cleveland is a divisional rival, that alone is enough motivation, but potentially claiming a higher seed makes it even more meaningful.
Watching a Brandon Allen-led Bengals squad without multiple defensive starters is not appealing, understandably. But given the current state of the AFC, Cincinnati must beat Cleveland to claim the best possible playoff positioning.