Wild Sunday lifts Bengals

Posted: 6 a.m.

The Bengals didn't have to take a snap Sunday in order to have a wildly productive day in the AFC Wild Card chase.

They watched the Broncos and Chiefs lose crushing games to fall into a five-way tie with the Bengals, Jets and Jaguars at 7-5 with Cincinnati and the Jets having the easiest schedule in the final four games.

With no AFC team at 6-6, the two Wild Card teams are virtually assured to come from this Gang of Five with the Bengals Christmas Eve game at Denver looking more and more like it will decide their fate.

Meanwhile, it was an eventful off weekend for the Bengals. Wide receiver Chad Johnson made a national appearance at halftime during NBC's broadcast of the Denver victory. But according to a TV report Sunday night, rookie receiver Reggie McNeal became the seventh Bengal arrested since Dec. 15 when he was picked up for resisting arrest outside a Houston club.

The Bengals return to practice Monday in preparation for Sunday's game at Paul Brown Stadium against 2-10 Oakland. It's the first of two "trap games" at home with the Raiders and 5-7 Steelers arriving for the Dec. 31 regular-season finale at Paul Brown Stadium.

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Lewis

Head coach Marvin Lewis stressed having an even better December after the last day of November's win over the Ravens and it's a month the Bengals have lost some key home games under him against teams with inferior records, notably the 2003 finale against Cleveland and last season's loss to the Bills. The Bengals are 6-6 under Lewis in December.

If the Bengals can hold serve at home, lose to the 10-2 Colts in the Dec. 18 Monday night game on the road and beat the Broncos at Mile High, 10-6 should get them in because they would have won the head-to-head with Kansas City and Denver and would figure to have a better AFC record than the Jaguars, the two top tiebreakers for the playoffs.

At 5-3 in the AFC, the Bengals would need the 4-4 Jaguars to lose another AFC game and with Jacksonville scheduled to play division leaders New England and Indianapolis at home, that may very well happen.

Of the Gang of Five, the Jags have the toughest remaining schedule with their foes at 31-17, followed by the Chiefs' 28-18 slate that includes a game at the AFC West-leading Chargers and their unbeaten home record. Denver, which also plays at San Diego this week, is at 25-23 with the Bengals at 24-24 and the Jets at 17-31 and no winning team on New York's schedule.

At the moment Denver, 7-3, has the only better AFC record than the Bengals among the five. But that's a tiebreaker that wouldn't even get to the Broncos-Bengals because they play each other.

A week after getting shut out by the Bengals, Cleveland offered its big rivals a big hand by devastating the Chiefs in overtime Sunday in overtaking Kansas City's 14-point lead in the second half. Denver let a home game get away Sunday night in rookie quarterback Jay Cutler's first NFL start when NFC Seattle beat the Broncos.

At halftime of that game, the New Chad's cautious, almost catatonic interview with hosts Bob Costas, Cris Collinsworth and Shannon Sharpe had them giggling.

"It's a very important (time) for me and my team and there's no time for antics," said Johnson, the NFL's receiving yardage leader who again chalked up his success this past month to more aggressive play-calling that is taking more chances.

Citing Sunday's report by Fox insider Jay Glazier in which Saints coach Sean Payton said Johnson called him up before their game with the Bengals looking for tickets, Costas asked Johnson if he planned to pay Payton $1,600.

"That should have been there by now," Johnson said.

Costas, who breezily referred to Johnson as "Ocho," led a brief interview that also asked him if quarterback Carson Palmer was back to 2005 form.

"He's back to the Carson Palmer of early January," Johnson said.

Johnson did the interview from Miami, where he spent the off weekend after head coach Marvin Lewis gave his team three days off before they practice Monday afternoon and get their regular day off on Tuesday.

Lewis will have to deal with the McNeal case. McNeal had just recently got on the field for the first time in the last couple of weeks after extracting himself from a previous off-field issue. On Sept. 25, Odell Thurman was arrested for a DUI while driving McNeal's car.

WILD CARD AT A GLANCE:

**Bengals (7-5 overall, 5-3 in AFC, 3-3 at home, 4-2 on road)

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Dec. 10 Oakland (2-10 overall, 1-8 in AFC, 0-6 on road)

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Dec. 18 at Indianapolis (10-2 overall, 7-1 in AFC, 6-0 at home)

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Dec. 24 at Denver (7-5 overall, 7-3 in AFC, 4-2 at home)

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Dec. 31 Pittsburgh (5-7 overall, 3-6 in AFC, 1-5 on road) FOES: 24-24**

Denver (7-5 overall, 7-3 in AFC, 3-3 at home, 4-2 on road)

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Dec. 10 at San Diego (10-2, 8-2 in AFC, 5-0 at home)

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Dec. 17 at Arizona (3-9, 2-4 at home)

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Dec. 24 Cincinnati (7-5, 5-3 in AFC, 4-2 on road)

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Dec. 31 San Francisco (5-7, 1-5 on road)

FOES: 25-23

Jets (7-5 overall, 5-4 in AFC, 3-3 at home, 4-2 on road)

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Dec. 10 vs. Buffalo (5-7, 3-5 in AFC, 2-4 on road)

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Dec. 17 at Minnesota (5-7, 3-3 at home)

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Dec. 25 at Miami (5-7, 2-6 in AFC, 3-3 at home)

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Dec. 31 Raiders (2-10, 1-8 in AFC, 0-6 on road)

FOES: 17-31

Jacksonville (7-5 overall, 4-4 in AFC, 5-1 at home, 2-4 on road

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Dec. 10 Indianapolis (10-2, 7-1 in AFC, 4-2 on road)

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Dec. 17 at Tennessee (5-7, 2-6 in AFC, 3-3 at home)

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Dec. 24 New England (9-3, 5-3 in AFC, 5-0 on road)

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Dec. 31 at Kansas City (7-5, 3-5 in AFC, 5-1 at home)

FOES: 31-17.

Kansas City (7-5 overall, 4-4 in AFC, 5-1 at home, 2-4 on road)

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Dec. 10 Baltimore (9-3 overall, 6-2 in AFC, 4-2 on road)

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Dec. 17 at San Diego (10-2 overall, 8-2 in AFC, 5-0 at home.

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Dec. 23 at Oakland (2-10 overall, 1-8 in AFC, 2-6 at home)

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Dec. 31 Jacksonville (7-5 overall, 4-4 in AFC, 2-4 on road)

FOES: 28-20

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