The Cincinnati Bengals are playing a meaningful game in Week 17. So even if they don’t end up earning a playoff berth, Marvin Lewis’ first season as coach has to be considered a success.
The Bengals still have AFC North title hopes, but need some help as they host the Cleveland Browns in the regular season finale.
After years as one of the NFL’s most hapless franchises, Cincinnati has enjoyed its best season in 13 years in Lewis’ rookie campaign. The Bengals still have a chance for their first playoff berth since they won the AFC Central with a 9-7 mark in 1990. That was also the last time they finished with a winning record.
Cincinnati is one game behind the Baltimore Ravens, who host Pittsburgh on Sunday night. If the Bengals win and the Ravens lose, Cincinnati would be the AFC North champion because it owns the tiebreaker advantages.
“It’s a situation we didn’t want to put ourselves into, but we’re in it,” linebacker Kevin Hardy said. “Now we’ve got to look for some help.”
The Bengals fell out of a tie for first last Sunday, and Cleveland had a hand in that. While Cincinnati was losing 27-10 at St. Louis, the Browns were being routed 35-0 by the Ravens.
“It’s not in our hands anymore,” Lewis said. “So we’ve just got to beat Cleveland and see what happens.”
Cleveland’s loss was just the latest in what has been a very disappointing season. The Browns were hoping to build on their success from last season, when they made the playoffs, but instead are only a game ahead of San Diego and Arizona for the league’s worst record.
Cleveland has lost five straight and hasn’t defeated a team that currently has a winning record.
“I recognize that this hasn’t been the season that anyone envisioned,” coach Butch Davis said. “Nobody wanted this season to happen. As the head coach, ultimately, it’s my responsibility. It’s my responsibility to prepare the team and get the team to play well and win games.
“I recognize my own shortcomings and the things I’m not doing well as a head coach. I recognize the things we’re not doing well as a football team, and we’re going to do everything humanly possible to rectify that.”
Cleveland won three straight meetings between the rivals before Cincinnati’s 21-14 victory on Sept. 28. The Browns lead the series 31-29.