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Hobson's Choice: Why not No. 3?

Hey Geoff, I'm just wondering, with everyone making such a big deal about the seeding, now that the Bengals cannot get the first round bye wouldn't you almost rather just drop to the fourth seed?

I mean a banged up Jaguars team with no Byron Leftwich seems much less formidable than the Steelers with what they have done the past couple weeks.

Of course then Indy would be the opponent the next week but you have to assume to get to the Super Bowl you are going through Indy anyway. Now I would never say to purposely lose a game, but wouldn't the Bengals' playoff picture be a bit brighter if the Steelers weren't involved?
**Steve, Cincinnati

I don't think you can assume the Super Bowl is going through Indy with the way New England and Pittsburgh are playing, so here's why in one simple mind the No. 3 seed is a good thing.

The first-round matchup is a tough one, anyway, so why not go against the Steelers team you know best? No. 3 means the Bengals won the last game in Kansas City to get back on track for the playoffs, and if they're No. 3 that gives New England a shot at beating the Colts and coming to an AFC title game at Paul Brown Stadium if the Bengals can get by Denver.

But it also makes a lot of sense for Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis to rest plenty of his starters. The most important thing is winning the first-round playoff game, not winning Sunday. And if a No. 4 seed means resting Carson Palmer's groin, the knees of cornerback Deltha O'Neal and right tackle Willie Anderson, the ankle of running back Chris Perry, and the wrist of tight end Reggie Kelly, then, welcome Jags.

Of course, the Bengals could rest people and still win because the Chiefs may be out of the playoffs by 1 p.m. Sunday if San Diego beats a a Denver team Saturday night that already has won what it needs. Bengals backup quarterback Jon Kitna is certainly capable of engineering a win out in Kansas City, where he played several times as a Seahawk, but you'd have to wonder about rust.

Look, the Steelers have played terrific football and defense since losing that 38-31 shootout to the Bengals back on Dec. 4 at Heinz Field. And they have all the familiar demons that make Bengaldom cringe. Cowher's jaw (they never lose leads), The Bus and his 713 100-yard games against the Bengals (he looked like Sweetness against the Bears), and LeBeau and his zone blitz of confusion (no team has played Palmer better). It's crazy not to fear the Steelers, especially with the mastery Cowher has had over them.

But the Steelers can't be looking forward to a re-match with the Bengals, particularly in Cincinnati. It's a good matchup for the Bengals. As good as Jacksonville. Sure, the Steelers scored 31 points against the Bengals, but they didn't look like themselves doing it. They turned it over four times. It's just not their thing. In the last three weeks, Pittsburgh shut down the Nos. 26, 28, and 25 offenses in the league playing right into their hands.

Obviously, the Bengals can't get behind like they did in the Oct. 23 loss to the Steelers, exposing themselves to the run.

But as much as Lewis stays up worrying about Ben Roethlisberger's play-action fake behind a resolute offensive line and the athleticism of Hines Ward on offense and Joey Porter on defense, Cowher is fretting about Palmer's cannon and multitude of receivers that can poke holes in a zone blitz.

The Steelers are no walk in the park. But their history and fans will add such drama to PBS' first playoff game, just think of the frenzy. After getting over the obstacle of the division mindset with the win in Pittsburgh, the Bengals would have to furiously guard the edge at home.

Plus, the Jags just don't turn it over. They have 16 compared to the Steelers' 21.

And, let New England take a shot at Indy while the Bengals would end up playing a Denver team at home that they beat decisively at PBS last season.

Let's face it. There's not going to be an easy game. Denver doesn't turn it over, either, with just 16, and they have the second best running game in the NFL and the third best run defense. But they would also have to be leery of a Cincinnati offense that put up 321 yards on them in Palmer's sixth NFL start last season in a 23-10 win.

Of course, winning a playoff game in Mile High is one of the Mt. Everest challenges in the NFL. But the reward could be a home AFC title game.

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