The Cincinnati Bengals will play the Baltimore Ravens in Week 18’s season finale, a statement more complex than one could have ever guessed.
As of this writing, the NFL hasn’t announced whether Cincinnati’s postponed game against the Buffalo Bills will resume, though a report says things are trending toward it being called a no-contest.
On paper, that means Sunday’s game against the Ravens is for the AFC North crown (unless the no-contest is declared, then the Bengals win the division automatically).
As of now, the Bengals can still clinch 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 seeds in the AFC playoffs based on how they do and other results over the weekend. Here’s a look at some of those scenarios.
No Bills vs. Bengals reschedule
Syndication: The Enquirer
If/when the NFL announces a no-contest or tie between the Bills and Bengals, the Bengals automatically win the AFC North, even if they lose to the Ravens on Sunday. Playoff seeding would then likely be determined by winning percentage, though a no-contest or tie would lock them out of contention for the No. 1 seed.
If the Chiefs beat the Raiders on Saturday, they secure the No. 1 seed.
If the Bengals beat the Ravens and the Bills lose to the Patriots, the Bengals win the No. 2 seed (it advances to the fourth tiebreaker, strength of victory, and the Bills can’t overcome the Bengals here).
If the Bengals lose to the Ravens OR the Bills beat the Patriots, the Bengals are locked into the No. 3 seed.
If the Chiefs lose or tie the Raiders and the Bills beat the Patriots, the Bills claim the No. 1 seed and that locks the Bengals into the No. 3 seed behind the Chiefs.
If the Chiefs lose or tie the Raiders and the Bills lose to the Patriots, the Bengals lock into the No. 2 seed.
If Bills vs. Bengals is rescheduled
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If the Chiefs lose to the Raiders and the Bengals beat the Ravens and win the resumed game against the Bills, they secure the No. 1 seed.
If the Chiefs beat or tie the Raiders and the Bengals beat the Ravens and Bills, the Bengals secure the No. 2 seed.
If the Bengals lose to the Ravens and Bills, they would earn the No. 5 or No. 6 seed.
There are other smaller scenarios here for lesser seeds but the point is simple — the No. 1 seed is only in play for the Bengals if the game is resumed.
Syndication: The Enquirer
Clearly, the NFL doesn’t face an easy decision on the postponed game for many, many reasons. One of those is the unfortunate impact on teams like the Ravens, who go into Sunday not understanding if the AFC North is at play and if they should potentially rest starters for a playoff game.
One of the other big variables to consider is home-field advantage of playoff seeds. If the Bengals have to visit the Bills in the playoffs after a no-contest, does the NFL move it to a neutral site? Do the Chiefs and Bills play at a neutral site on the chance they meet in the AFC title game?
And should the postponed game get resumed, there’s the issue of how and when. Do they keep the playoff schedule the same and make those teams play on short weeks? Or do they push back the playoffs by a week, giving everyone but the Bengals and Bills bye weeks?
All the Bengals can do is go out and play their starters against the Ravens in the hopes of strong playoff seeding. But even that would leave plenty of questions before the playoffs get started, especially so if the league opts to resume the postponed game somehow.