The way the Bengals seem to be looking at it as they prep for Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) in Cleveland is:
_To secure a bye with the top seed in the AFC or even the No. 2 seed, the longshot is massive.
_To project which team they would play according to the seed would strain the most agile of computers. There are five teams currently behind the Bengals that could conceivably play them in the Wild Card
_They only know three things for sure. They're either going to be the third or fourth seed no matter if they win or lose Sunday. They're going to be at Paul Brown Stadium for the Wild Card round. And the prize for beating Kansas City is kind of a bye where they can rest starters.
Hence the news that quarterback Joe Burrow won't play against the Browns and head coach Zac Taylor isn't even sure if he'll dress.
"Our key objective is still to go win this football game," Taylor said before Wednesday's practice. "The guys ultimately we make inactive there will be some opportunity for them to make sure that they're fully healthy going into the playoff run. Nothing would make us happier than going on the road and playing a great football team in Cleveland and winning this game and finishing the season 11-6 and having a lot of great momentum heading into the playoffs. That would be the ideal way to end this week."
There are plenty of guys who have come back from injuries that could use the rest. Wide receiver Tee Higgins (shoulder), middle linebacker Logan Wilson (shoulder) and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie (foot) to name a few.
And now that COVID19 has decided to march on the Bengals locker room, the illness is probably going to dictate much of Sunday's lineup.
Joe Mixon, their 1,205-yard rusher, and Trey Hendrickson, their record pass rusher, are on the COVID list. So are three other starters and a regular (strong safety Vonn Bell, center Trey Hopkins, defensive tackle B.J. Hill, left guard Quinton Spain), although Spain (ankle) can't go anyway.
They should be able to get back in the building Monday to start prepping for the Wild Card. For every player on the COVID list for the game they can elevate a player from the practice squad.
Wednesday's list of players that didn't practice could be a look at Sunday's inactive list, headlined by Burrow nursing a sore right knee and dislocated right pinky but not having an injury designation:
Nose tackle D.J. Reader (rest), defensive end Sam Hubbard (thigh), defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (rest) defensive end Cam Sample (hamstring), tight end C.J. Uzomah (hip) and cornerback Jalen Davis (ankle).
Cornerback Trae Waynes and wide receiver Trenton Irwin are back off the COVID list.
BURROW's WEEK: So Burrow rewrote the Bengals record book (108.3 passer rating, 34 touchdown passes, 4,611 yards) without a 17th game. He'll take the bye. Uzomah tells him he deserves it.
"Take a rest. You've gotten us to this point right now," Uzomah said. "We're in a position to do everything we want to do. Accomplish everything we want to accomplish."
Burrow says he could play with the sore knee and has said he may need surgery on his dislocated right pinky after the season.
"It's getting better each week. It's still something that I'm dealing with, but it hasn't been too much of a factor," he said. "Any time you can get a little break at this point of the season, we've played a lot of games. The bodies are starting to wear down a little bit and you can rest me this week and get my body back to where it needs to be so I can be full strength, running around the way I need to be Week 1 of the playoffs."
Burrow and some of the other guys who didn't practice worked in the gym on aerobics in the early stages of the workout. He says he anticipates getting in a regular week of throwing even though Brandon Allen gets the start.
"I think Joe gets a lot of really quality work outside of the team reps. He gets a lot of it in routes on air," Taylor said. "He does a lot of it in individual and the group install where it's just kind of the shell without the offensive linemen throwing the routes. You've probably seen us do that in the red zone on Fridays. That's where a lot of the timing comes from. There is no defense over there so there is nobody to disrupt the timing, but he does a great job moving in the pocket and simulating some of those situations. Then really the icing on the cake is the team work we get against the scout team."
CHASING CHAD: Pro Bowl rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, fourth in the NFL with 1,429 yards behind such luminaries as Cooper Kupp (1,829), LSU buddy Justin Jefferson (1,509) and Davonte Adams (1,498), is just a dozen yards from breaking Chad Johnson's franchise record.
Would they play him Sunday?
"It's really just about what gives us the best opportunity to win this week against Cleveland," Taylor said. "And so again, some guys may be inactive. Some guys will be up and playing. Everyone who walks on that field, we expect their best and just to help us win this game."
But Taylor wouldn't equivocate when it came to who he thinks should be the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
"I think he's certainly earned it. At the same time I don't follow the performances from everybody else. All I can say is I'm really glad he plays receiver for us," Taylor said. "What he's done as a rookie has been tremendous. If he got that award that would be one of the least surprising things in my life, because he's earned it."
Sure for his receiving. But Taylor can't get over his blocking.
"He's not afraid to come in that box and dig people out and chase guys down the field and help his teammates," Taylor said. "To me that speaks more about Ja'Marr than the three touchdowns he had in the game receiving. It's more what he's done for his teammates and for this offense and for this team and giving us that energy and willingness to get down and dirty."
LOGAN STRONG: The last time we saw Bengals middle linebacker Logan Wilson before last Sunday, he was carted off the field with a shoulder injury against the Chargers on Dec. 5 and it looked like his break-through season was done.
But he quietly came back against the Chiefs on Sunday, played all 61 snaps and picked up right where he left off with eight tackles. In this offseason of rehabbing Burrow and Reader to Pro Bowl caliber seasons and getting Uzomah to career highs in catches (49) and yards (493), director of rehab Nick Cosgray pulled one off in mid-season.
"When I was getting carted off I had no idea what had gone on truthfully. I just knew that my shoulder did not feel very good," Wilson said. "When the doctor told me it was a higher probability that I was probably going to have to have surgery, but it wasn't 100 percent, I just thought to myself … that's all I need is that little percentage. They're saying there's a chance that I cannot have surgery so I'm going to do everything in my power to rehab it the right way.
"I eat really healthy but I also tried to limit foods that were going to inflame my body so it gives my shoulder the best chance to heal and let the rest go to what my Lord wanted to happen. Just took it one day at a time and here we are."