Riding their longest stretch run winning streak since the days of head coach Paul Brown, Zac Taylor's Bengals are looking to win their seventh straight Saturday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) in New England and clinch their second straight play-off berth.
They could clinch even as they sit in their New England hotel Thursday night if the Jaguars beat the Jets.
All of which was news to quarterback Joe Burrow in his Tuesday evening news conference that followed a walk-through in the IEL Indoor Facility.
"The goal is always the division title," Burrow said. "Obviously making the playoffs is great and we can clinch on Saturday, but that's not really the goal."
Barring a Ravens loss, even if the 10-4 Bengals win the next two they'll need to beat the 9-5 Ravens in the Jan. 8 season finale at Paycor Stadium to win the AFC North and claim their first back-to-back division titles.
Under Brown, the Bengals founder, the Bengals won their last seven to win the 1970 AFC Central and their last six to win it again in 1973.
"We're focused on winning the division, there's a lot more that's going to have to go into it than winning this week," Taylor said. "This week is a step in doing that, we are fully focused on playing our best football because we know how much of a challenge this going to be. But you got to take care of this one before you can focus on anything behind that. We are just focused on beating New England."
By winning out with what would be an in-season club-record nine straight, the Bengals could do even more than win the North but also secure the AFC's top seed with a Kansas City loss to win home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
But the Bengals aren't there yet.
"We would need some help for that, but our goal is to go 1-0 this week and I think the rest will take of itself from there," said Burrow, who also brings to Foxboro, Mass., his own streak of nine straight wins in December and January.
Taylor is looking to match Brown and head coach Sam Wyche with two division titles and join Wyche and Forest Gregg as Bengals coaches that won home-field in the playoffs.
"The first step is always just getting the division and then if you can do that it allows you to see a bigger picture that we are not there right now," Taylor said. "We've still got a lot of work to do and the first step is just doing everything we can to put ourselves in position to win the division."
RETURN OF TED: The Bengals struck gold with Patriots center Ted Karras in free agency and six days after Taylor made former Buc right guards Alex Cappa a game captain in his return to Tampa, you have to figure he'll do the same for Karras Saturday in Foxboro.
Karras, Kappa and right tackle La'el Collins, the free-agent from Dallas, are big reasons the Bengals are on the verge of going back to the postseason.
"Not a revenge tour," said Karras, who played 77 games in five seasons and two different stints with the Pats while winning two Super Bowl rings. "They gave me two opportunities. I've got great respect for Coach (Bill) Belichick and Mr. (Robert) Kraft and everyone in that organization."
Karras says he was looking to assimilate his personality into the locker room of a winner and is "very happy," with his choice of what he calls "an amazing locker room." But he also says he grew up a Patriot and adheres to many of the Belichickian principles. The No. 1 football thing he learned, he said, "is a Bill Belichick adage. You can't win until you keep from losing. I firmly believe that."
So he knows what to expect from the defensive guru Belichick on Saturday. The typically rugged Pats defense is ranked sixth, possesses two prolific edge rushers and has helped them to a solid plus-three in turnover differential.
Bengals fans down through the generations know, too. Belichick went 8-2 against them as coach of the Browns in the early '90s and is 8-2 against Cincinnati during his 23 seasons in New England. In five of the 20 games the Bengals have scored 23 points and not in their last four meetings. He mixes it up, interchanges players and shows you something you've never seen.
"It's going to be sideline and halftime adjustment kind of game," Karras said. "We're going to be forced to communicate and adjust between every series and at halftime and we're already starting to prepare for that."
JOE KNOWS: Six days after beating the winningest quarterback of all-time, Burrow is now trying to beat the Paul Brown of his day in Belichick.
This is how cool Burrow is. When he was coming out in the draft in 2020 and was in Miami, he introduced himself when he saw Belichick at a steakhouse.
No nerves walking up to the coach with six Super Bowl trophies. It's not how he's wired. For him, Saturday is the stuff of a challenge, not dreams.
"I didn't really think about it," Burrow said. "I figured he knew who I was. I just went up and introduced myself. Nothing crazy," I just didn't really think that way. I think if you get too caught up in those moments with people that have played for a long time, I think you lose your competitive advantage."
Burrow has also met Belichick on film and this is the kind of game he sees:
"They're going to have a good plan. You see it every week and on film. They'll have a plan for certain guys. They'll have a third- down plan that you probably haven't seen. They'll have a red-zone plan you haven't seen, so you'll have to make adjustments."
LOGISTIC AND INJURY UPDATE: With heavy weather due in Cincinnati overnight Thursday, Taylor said the Bengals changed plans and instead of leaving for New England on Friday, they'll head out Thursday afternoon after practice.
"We'll keep our normal schedule, all of our physical practice stuff will be here," Taylor said. "It doesn't really change our routine much, just where our meetings will be on that final day."
By the time they get on the plane, Taylor should have a pretty good idea who can go and who can't at venerable Gillette Stadium.
Taylor gave absolutely no time lines. He gave the Marvin Lewis "We'll see," for everybody to see how they respond during the week, even defensive end Sam Hubbard (calf), reportedly out a few weeks but that report hasn't been confirmed by the Bengals.
Because it was a walk-through, the Bengals had to submit an estimated injury report and there was good news on it. Sack ace Trey Hendrickson (wrist), who missed last week, was marked limited. Same with slot cornerback Mike Hilton (ankle) and starting cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt (shoulder stinger), who left late in Tampa. Backup slot cornerback Jalen Davis (thumb), out last week also went limited. Tight end Hayden Hurst (calf) who has missed the last two games, was limited, as was wide receiver Tee Higgins (hamstring) after his eight-point night in Tampa.
Hubbard didn't practice and as for Hendrickson, Taylor said. "We'll see how he gets through the week. With a lot of the guys we are trending towards optimistic, but we want to utilize these full speed practice days, these next two days to see where we are really at."