DENVER, Colo. - On a Sunday they didn't even take a snap as they prepared for Monday's AFC showdown (8:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5 and ESPN), the Bengals enjoyed one of their more remarkable days in recent memory when the Ravens stunned the Steelers, 20-17, in Baltimore, and old friend Ryan Fitzpatrick engineered an overtime victory over the Patriots in New Jersey for the Jets.
The Ravens' win gave the Bengals their second AFC North title in three years, their third in seven seasons, and the fourth under head coach Marvin Lewis.
Not only that, Lewis saw his two ex-coordinators make the NFC playoffs this weekend. Washington head coach Jay Gruden, who coordinated the Bengals offense from 2011-13, steered his team to a Wild Card berth on Saturday night and then in the Sunday night game Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, the Bengals defensive coordinator from 2008-2013, joined him with a rout of the Giants.
The 11-3 Bengals, now assured of a Wild Card Game at Paul Brown Stadium in two weeks, need a win over the Broncos to get a bye into the divisional round on Jan. 16-17. With the Jets' overtime win over the Patriots, they can knock the Steelers out of the postseason next week with a victory over the Bills.
"We are happy to win the North again. We respect what a challenge it is to win each year," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who has been there for the three latest titles. "But we set out this season with much bigger goals than a division championship. So our focus remains the same."
The Patriots can wrap up the top seed and home-field advantage with a win in Miami next Sunday. Since the Bengals have a one-game lead on the 10-4 Broncos, they could lose Monday and still get the No. 2 seed if Cincinnati beats the Ravens in the regular-season finale next Sunday at PBS and the Broncos lose to the Chargers at home. Or, if the Chiefs win at home against Oakland and Denver loses.
And they really want that first or second seed. The Ravens' win came between practice and dinner for the Bengals, so a lot of them were at lunch. Whitworth was one of them and his group watched the win, but it was not a champagne moment.
"It's just a check mark on a much bigger goal," Whitworth said.