Posted: 6:40 a.m.
Rudi Johnson and the Bengals are focusing only on the Ravens this week.
What is it going to take to get the Bengals into the playoffs?
Their fate in the AFC North will be decided in the next 180 minutes: Baltimore and Cleveland at Paul Brown Stadium this Sunday and Dec. 11, respectively. Then, forget the buildup for the Colts, the next Greatest Game Ever Played is Dec. 4 in Pittsburgh in a match pitting the 7-3 North leaders.
Others are looking at the 6-4 Chargers and Chiefs for Wild Card purposes where the Bengals trail in one possible tiebreaker, but the players are looking at the Ravens, Steelers and Browns in a month that right tackle Willie Anderson says the Bengals have "a chance to take us to a position we've never been to before."
"Got to have all three of them," said right guard Bobbie Williams. "I'll take wins from here on out. No more losses. It hurts too much. If we had won, it wouldn't have hurt so much."
But Williams's rib is only bruised and he'll be able to play Sunday, the game that starts what Anderson calls a crucial month. If the Bengals win the next three games, they'll win the North with the best division record. The Steelers are 3-1 in the North with two to play, the Bengals are 2-1 with these three left, and it's like head coach Marvin Lewis told his team Monday.
"All we have to do," said linebacker Brian Simmons, "is take care what's in front of us. If we do that, we don't have to worry about what anyone else is doing. We don't have to rely on anybody to do this or that. The nice thing about it is we can take care of it ourselves."
But, here is where the 'What If' takes over.
What if the Bengals lose in Pittsburgh and don't win the division?
WILD CARD PICTURE:
- Bengals: 7-3 overall, remaining foes are 28-32 (11-19 at home, 17-13 on road) 4-3 record in AFC Jaguars: 7-3, 22-38 (14-16, 8-22), 6-2 Broncos: 8-2, 30-30 (7-13, 23-17), 6-1 Chargers: 6-4, 36-24 (15-15, 21-9), 5-2 Chiefs: 6-4, 41-22 (27-13, 14-6), 5-3
Do 10 or 11 wins get the Bengals into the playoffs with one of the two wild card berths?
It certainly looks like they have to concede one of those spots to Jacksonville. For one thing, the Jaguars beat the Bengals head-to-head back on Oct. 9. For another, the Jags have the easiest schedule of the AFC contenders with their last six foes a combined 22-38. The Bengals play teams 28-32 the rest of the way with the only winning teams remaining on the road in Pittsburgh and Kansas City in the Jan. 1 finale.
The Bengals also may have to concede the AFC West title to the 8-2 Broncos, a club that still has to play the 6-4 Chargers and Chiefs. Denver's foes are 30-30 and they do have to play the Chargers and Chiefs on the road as well as four of their last six games in Dallas and Buffalo. But it would appear the Bengals are grappling with San Diego and Kansas City for that last spot if they go by strength of schedule.
The Chargers finish against teams with a more formidable sked at 36-24, and have to travel across the country to Indianapolis and Washington. The Chiefs don't play a losing team the rest of the way, including a finale at home against the Bengals. Kansas City's last six have a record of 41-19. They have four of the six at home against opponents that are 27-13.
After the Bengals, and the Broncos, Chiefs, and Chargers in the AFC West, the Steelers in the North, and the Jaguars in the South, the only winning teams left look to be division champs with the Patriots at 6-4 in the East and the Colts at 10-0 in the South.
The tiebreaker? It will come down to that Jan. 1 game with the Chiefs if it's Kansas City. If it's San Diego or Denver, teams Cincinnati doesn't play, then it's the record in the AFC and right now the Bengals are 4-3 in the AFC compared to the Broncos' 6-1 and the Chargers' 5-2.
"He lets us know where we are in relation to the rest of the league, but he's never mentioned the playoffs," Anderson said of Lewis. "He came in today talking right away about the Baltimore Ravens. He's mentioned some of the things we have to do to make the playoffs, but our goal is (the Ravens)."
Lewis is telling his team to stay healthy, get healthy, and get lined up for what Anderson calls "a rough month."
But it is a month Bengals fans are plotting playoff scenarios instead of draft position. Lewis likes to clearly plot his team's goals in crystal-clear PowerPoint presentations during meetings. But the players haven't seen a playoff picture yet.
"To me, there's enough character enough leadership around here (that he doesn't have to)," Williams said.
There is no way the Bengals could overlook the 3-7 Ravens this Sunday, given their sad history against Baltimore. But just to make sure, Baltimore used that stingy defense to knock off Pittsburgh at home on Sunday in overtime in vintage 16-13 fashion. The Bengals are three weeks removed from holding the Ravens to without a touchdown in a 21-9 victory, but Baltimore held the Bengals to 95 yards rushing. On Sunday, the Ravens held the Steelers' dominant run game to 70 yards without Pro Bowlers Ray Lewis (hamstring) at middle linebacker and free safety Ed Reed (ankle) and both are doubtful for this Sunday.
But the Bengals do face No. 1 quarterback Kyle Boller for the first time this season.
"You knew sooner or later Baltimore was going to wake up," Anderson said. "Their defense is in an 'A' grade season. They've been struggling with injuries at quarterback and offensive line and they probably should have won four or five games that they've been in. People always know if their offense cranks up, people are going to be in trouble because the defense is going to make sure they're put into a position to succeed
"With respect to Ray and Ed, when Ray and Ed were in there, those other guys that are playing football now have been playing good for several years. Adalius Thomas. (Terrell) Suggs. Chris McAlister. Kelly Gregg. Those guys have been playing well for years. I think Ed and Ray overshadowed those guys for years. Those guys have been the nuts and bolts of that team for the last several years. It's magnified now because the big-name guys aren't in there. Those guys are still making hay pulling their own weight."