Posted: 12:30 a.m.
The Bengals' long, torturous ride on the NFL's playoff roller coaster took a near fatal turn Monday night when the Jets' Mike Nugent kicked a 30-yard field goal with 10 seconds left to give New York a 13-10 victory in Miami.
That play kicked the Bengals regular-season finale at Paul Brown Stadium against the Steelers to 1 p.m. New Year's Eve on CBS. Ohio State's Nugent not only kicked the Bengals out of prime time, but virtually kicked them out of the playoffs on a chip shot the Bengals couldn't execute Sunday in Denver.
The 8-7 Bengals must not only beat 7-8 Pittsburgh this Sunday, but the Jets have to lose to 2-13 Oakland in order for Cincinnati to gain a Wild Card berth. The Raiders, who haven't won a road game this season, travel to The Meadowlands, and also play at 1 p.m.
The Bengals can also qualify for the playoffs with a win against Pittsburgh, a loss by the Denver Broncos and a win by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Here is the explanation on the two scenarios:
1) A Jets loss means that among possible contenders for two Wild Card spots, only Denver could finish above 9-7. If Denver claims the first Wild Card at 10-6, the Bengals would win any tie for the second spot based on conference record (7-5). No team among Kansas City, Jacksonville, Tennessee or the Jets could be above 6-6. If Denver loses and joins a pack at 9-7, the Bengals could claim the first Wild Card.
The key for Cincinnati is that Kansas City would also have to win, because all ties must first be broken within a division, and Chiefs would eliminate Denver based on division record. In the next step, Bengals take first Wild Card based on best conference record. If Kansas City is not involved, Denver still gets the first Wild Card at 9-7, based on conference record (8-4), and Cincinnati takes the second Wild Card based on second-best conference record.
2) This scenario presumes a Jets win, in which case Jets would take first Wild Card at 10-6. But as long as Kansas City wins to tie a losing Denver team at 9-7, the Broncos in any tie among 9-7 teams cannot take advantage of their best overall conference record (8-4) or their head-to-head win over the Bengals. The Broncos are first eliminated in the same AFC West tiebreak described above in 1). Jacksonville would be eliminated because it lost to Kansas City and finished 8-8.
The next tiebreaker would involve Cincinnati, Kansas City, and possibly Tennessee. If the Titans defeat visiting New England to make it a three-way tie, the Bengals take the second Wild Card based on best conference record. If the Titans lose and it's just Cincinnati vs. Kansas City, the Bengals take the second Wild Card based on head-to-head play.
If the Jets and Denver both win, they will both be 10-6 and the Bengals cannot qualify. Denver would claim the first Wild Card with a better conference record, and the Jets would be the second Wild Card.
As the dust cleared from the various scrambles, it turned out that Green Bay-Chicago is the only game deemed certain enough with playoff ramifications and got moved to prime time on NBC New Year's Eve. If Miami had won Monday, the Bengals-Steelers would have moved to prime time.
So the Bengals won't have to wait until next year to find out their fate if they beat Pittsburgh at home for the first time under head coach Marvin Lewis.
The Bengals brought it all upon themselves when they missed a chance to qualify for the Wild Card berth Sunday in Denver, unable to pull off the tying extra point because of a bad snap and overcome four turnovers.
After Sunday's game at Mile High, the stunned Bengals talked about spending Christmas night rooting for Miami. But former Dolphin Bryan Robinson dreaded looking for help.
"You hate to have to root for another team," said Robinson, and the way Monday's game in Miami unfolded showed why it's so unreliable to rely on other teams.
Dolphins coach Nick Saban won't win any Man of the Year awards in Cincinnati after he benched quarterback Joey Harrington at the beginning of a scoreless second half in favor of Cleo Lemon, a second-year pro who hadn't thrown an NFL pass before this season.
Still, continuing the torture for Bengaldom, the Dolphins took a 7-3 lead and tied the game at 10 just before the two-minute warning only to see the game slip away on Leon Washington's 64-yard run on a screen pass.
WILD CARD GLANCE:
**Bengals (8-7 overall, 6-5 in AFC, 4-3 at home, 4-4 on road)
Dec. 31 Pittsburgh (7-8 overall, 4-7 in AFC, 2-6 on road)**
Jets (9-6 overall, 6-5 in AFC, 3-4 at home, 6-2 on road)
Dec. 31 Raiders (2-13, 1-10 in AFC, 0-7 on road)
Jacksonville (8-7 overall, 5-6 in AFC, 6-2 at home, 2-5 on road
Dec. 31 at Kansas City (8-7, 4-7 in AFC, 5-2 at home)
Kansas City (8-7 overall, 4-7 in AFC, 5-2 at home, 3-5 on road)
Dec. 31 Jacksonville (8-7 overall, 5-6 in AFC, 2-5 on road)
Tennessee (8-7 overall, 5-6 in AFC, 4-3 at home, 4-4 on road)
Dec. 31 New England (11-4 overall, 7-4 in AFC, 6-1 on road)