CINCINNATI – When it comes to playoff seeding, it almost doesn't matter if the Bengals win, lose or tie against the Ravens Sunday.
What mostly matters is if the Chargers (4-11) beat the Broncos (11-4) in Denver. Then the Bengals could steal the No. 2 seed even if they lose to the Ravens - or finish the regular season with a crushing disappointment.
Consider the possibilities:
The Bengals have already clinched the No. 3 seed and would get No. 2 if …
> CIN wins + DEN loses or ties OR
> CIN ties + DEN loses OR
> DEN loses + KC wins.
The last scenario is an unusual one because it doesn't matter what the Bengals do Sunday if Denver loses and Kansas City (10-5) beats Oakland (7-8) at home. Here's why:
If the Bengals lose, there would be a three-way tie at 11-5. The Chiefs would win the AFC West on a tiebreaker (better division record) and the Broncos would drop to a wild card. The Bengals would win the No. 2 seed over the Chiefs based on their 36-21 victory over KC on Oct. 4.
Imagine the disappointment here, though, if the Chargers win and the Bengals and Chiefs lose. The Broncos (11-5) would win the AFC West and keep the No. 2 seed because of their head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bengals, and the Bengals would rue the day they blew the bye and home-field advantage by losing to the Ravens after beating them four straight times,
So if you're still playing the "IF" game with Bengals' playoff possibilities, know this first: You won't know for sure who or when the Bengals play until after the 4:25 p.m. games in Denver and Kansas City.
Depending on what happens in the 1 p.m. games – New York Jets (10-5) at Buffalo (7-8) and Pittsburgh (9-6) at Cleveland (3-12) - you'll know if the Bengals would play the Steelers or Jets next weekend should the Bengals finish with the No. 3 seed.
> The Jets if New York wins or ties or the Steelers lose or tie.
> The Steelers if they win and the Jets lose.
Rooting for a Chargers' win is probably a waste of time and energy. But before you say "impossible," remember that the then 4-10 Ravens knocked off the 9-5 Steelers last week in a game that Pittsburgh had to win to control its playoff destiny.
For what it's worth, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers promises his team won't lie down and play dead. A Chargers' win would ease the sting of San Diego's worst season since 2003, and besides, they don't like the Broncos.
"If you need any extra motivation, shoot, in my mind it's, 'Let's not let Denver play another game at home this year. Let's make this be their last home game,'" Rivers said. "We know obviously what the game means to them and what the atmosphere's going to be like. We're going to get a playoff-type atmosphere even though it'll be the end of it for us."
And you have to wonder how Denver's new quarterback, Brock Osweiler, will hold up under the pressure of starting with Peyton Manning on the bench as a backup for the first time in his legendary NFL career. Will Denver fans start chanting for Manning at the first sign of trouble?
Worth mentioning again:
> The Bengals can't win the No. 1 seed even if New England loses at Miami and they tie the Patriots at 12-4. That's because the Patriots have a tiebreaker advantage based on better record vs. common opponents (Patriots are 4-1 against Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Houston and Denver and Bengals are 2-3).
> Denver can win the No. 1 seed – or No. 2, No. 3, No. 5 or No. 6
The Broncos could be seeded anywhere except fourth (that's guaranteed to the AFC South champion). Denver would be No. 1 if it wins and New England loses at Miami since it holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.
If the Bengals win or tie and the Broncos lose, the Broncos fall to:
> No. 3 if the Chiefs lose or tie. The Broncos win AFC West.
> No. 5 if the Chiefs and the Steelers win and the Jets lose. The Chiefs win the AFC West (better division record) and the Broncos and the Steelers get wild cards. The Broncos (11-5) get the No. 5 seed over the Steelers (10-6).
> No. 6 if the Chiefs and the Jets win. The Jets win the tiebreaker with the Broncos for the No. 5 seed (better conference record).