The 2014 Cincinnati Bengals have had one of the strangest wire-to-wire runs of any NFL team in recent history, and that trend is not likely to change before the end of the season. As the Bengals prepare to play the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football, they lead their division by percentage points, and yet it is the Pittsburgh Steelers who are the only AFC North team to have clinched a playoff spot.
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The Steelers nabbed their post-season berth yesterday by virtue of a 20-12 home win over the Kansas City Chiefs yesterday, and will have the opportunity to win the division outright, regardless of how the Bengals fare tonight. Cincinnati travels to Pittsburgh next Sunday, and one of the two teams will be a half-game up on the other at the opening kickoff.
The situation is more dire for the Bengals than winning or losing the division crown, though, because if they drop both of their remaining games, there is a decent chance they will miss out on the playoffs altogether. Two losses would leave the Bengals at 9-6-1, and Week 16 ended with three other teams at 9-6, just hoping that Cincinnati loses their way out of the driver’s seat. Included in that group are the division rival Baltimore Ravens, the Buffalo Bills and the San Diego Chargers.
One of those teams will get into the playoffs even if the Bengals win out, but all three could leap ahead of Cincinnati.
So, thanks to the Steelers’ victory, even more is riding on this MNF game than the Bengals might have originally thought. Gone is the possibility of a nine-win taking the number-four seed, and greatly increased is the possibility that 10 wins will be needed to make the post-season.
If ever the Bengals are to shake their big-game shakes, tonight would be the time to do it.