After the dust cleared Sunday with the Bengals taking their third day of a three-day weekend, the possibility still existed that they could play for the AFC North title in the Dec. 30 finale at Paul Brown Stadium against the Ravens.
It is still head coach Marvin Lewis's best scenario: win the last two and they're in the postseason.
Both the Ravens and Steelers lost for the second straight week, chopping the 9-5 Ravens lead over the 8-6 Bengals to a game in the AFC North while Cincinnati took a one-game lead over 7-7 Pittsburgh for the final wild card spot.
But it is still virtually a must game for Cincinnati at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field next Sunday in a 1 p.m. game on Cincinnati's Channel 12.
Even though the Bengals lead the Steelers, they have to beat Pittsburgh head-to-head to secure a wild card berth thanks to Pittsburgh's 24-17 win on Oct. 21 at Paul Brown Stadium. A Bengals victory would eliminate Pittsburgh with Cincinnati's ninth win. A Pittsburgh victory would give the Steelers the first tiebreaker over the Bengals, a sweep in head-to-head games.
If the Bengals lose to the Steelers but beat the Ravens to finish 9-7, they need Pittsburgh to lose at home to the Browns in the finale. The Bengals go nowhere if they lose both games. Because if the Steelers lose to the Browns after beating the Bengals, Pittsburgh has the edge with the season sweep of the Bengals.
If the Bengals beat the Steelers but lose to the Ravens and finish 9-7, the Jets could eke out Cincinnati if they run the table at Tennessee on Monday night, home against the Chargers next week, and their finale in Buffalo. That would make New York 9-7, but 7-5 in the AFC while the Bengals would finish 6-6.
The Bengals finish with the AFC North-leading Ravens and the only way they can wrest the division from Baltimore is if the Ravens lose to the Giants next week at home and at Cincinnati in the finale while the Bengals sweep their arch-rivals in the last two weeks. If they finish tied, Baltimore gets the title with the better AFC North record.
The Pittsburgh loss to Dallas gave the Ravens a playoff berth.