Cincinnati Bengals players and coaches have tossed around the phrase “control our own destiny” a few times the last couple of weeks, but it’s not true.
And it won’t be even if the Bengals beat the Steelers on Monday night.
But it could be true on Sunday, although it would require Bengals fans to do something they might not be able to stomach: Rooting for the Steelers against Baltimore.
That because even if the Bengals run the table to finish 10-6, the Ravens (7-5) would go to the playoffs ahead of them if they also go 10-6.
The first tiebreaker is head to head, which would be even (1-1).
Second is won-lost-tied percentage in the division, which would be even (4-2).
Third is won-lost-tied-percentage in common games, which would be even (8-6).
Fourth is won-lost-tied percentage in conference games, and the Ravens (8-4) would beat the Bengals (7-5).
That puts Bengals fans in the unenviable position of rooting for the Steelers when they play host to the Ravens on Sunday Night Football.
Baltimore is the only team standing in the way of Cincinnati controlling its own destiny.
The Bengals got an assist from New England on Sunday thanks to a 23-3 win that dropped Buffalo to 6-6. The Bengals beat the Bills 20-16 in Week 5, so they would win a tiebreaker with them.
The Bengals don’t have to worry about tiebreaker scenarios with any of the three AFC West teams who are 6-6. The Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders each have two games remaining against the others, making it impossible for a non-division winner to finish 10-6.
Therefore, Bengals fans need cheer for the Steelers Sunday night against Baltimore.
Otherwise, the only chance for the Bengals to finish ahead of the Ravens would be to have Baltimore lose another game in either Week 15 (at Cleveland) or Week 16 (vs. Indianapolis).
If you’re wondering how the tiebreakers would play out if the Bills join the Bengals and Ravens at 10-6, don’t. Because when more than two teams are vying for a wildcard spot, if any of them are from the same division, the divisional tiebreaker is applied to eliminate all but one team per division.
So if you’re going to the game tonight, maybe ask a Steelers fan (there are sure to be thousands) to borrow a Terrible Towel for next week’s game.