Bengals downplay chance to clinch early playoff berth


Joe Kay

AP Sports Writer

CINCINNATI — The only thing that matters to the Bengals is finally winning a playoff game.

They’re on the verge of getting another chance.

The Bengals (9-2) will clinch a playoff berth on Sunday if they win at Cleveland (2-9) and the Texans, Colts and Jets lose.

Or if they win and the Texans, Colts and Chiefs all lose along with the Broncos winning.

A week later, they host the second-place Steelers (6-5) and could have a chance to clinch the AFC North title. The Bengals won their game in Pittsburgh 16-10 on Nov. 1 with a touchdown drive in the closing minutes, giving them control of the division.

They’ve rarely been so close to the playoffs with so much left in the regular season. They’ve reached the postseason each of the past four years, three times as a wild card in races that came down to the final games.

Cincinnati won only its eighth division title in 2013 by beating Minnesota in the second-to-last game of the season.

Playoffs, here they come again.

“Our goals are bigger than that,” Andy Dalton said. “The nice thing is that we’ve put ourselves in position where we can start handling that stuff as the season goes along. But our focus is getting this win right now, and that will set us up better for the end of the season.”

No matter how they’ve made it to the playoffs, they’ve flopped as soon as they’ve gotten there. The Bengals have lost their first-round games each of the past four seasons. They haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, the sixth-longest streak of futility in NFL history.

The way that the Bengals are playing makes them think this is the season they finally reach the playoffs and stay awhile. They know they can improve their odds by getting one of the top two seeds and a first-round bye.

“If we finish the way we should finish, we could probably get a bye,” cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones said.

New England (10-1) has the best record in the AFC, which brings home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Bengals and the Broncos (9-2) are tied for the second-best record and the other bye. Cincinnati plays in Denver on Monday, Dec. 28.

The Bengals beat the Browns 31-10 on Thursday, Nov. 5, at Paul Brown Stadium, shutting down quarterback Johnny Manziel in the second half.

Manziel’s behavior during the Browns’ bye week brought a demotion to a backup role. Austin Davis, who went 3-5 in eight starts for St. Louis last season, will start in his place on Sunday.

“It really doesn’t matter who the quarterback is because at the end of the day, we have to play our (type of) football game,” said defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who sacked Manziel twice last month and has 8½ sacks for the season. “If Johnny’s not playing, it’s a lot less running I have to do.”

The Browns have given the Bengals trouble over the past few years. Cincinnati hasn’t swept the season series since 2011. The intrastate rivals have split each of the past three years.

“What we have going on here is more of a rivalry for ourselves as a team,” Jones said. “We know the importance of the game for us, as far as where we want to go.”

Notes: The game against Pittsburgh on Dec. 13 has sold out. The Bengals had more than 4,000 unsold tickets for each of their past two home games, including a Monday night game against Houston. … TE Tyler Eifert (neck), CB Leon Hall (back) and Jones (foot) were held out of practice Wednesday. Eifert got a pinched nerve while recovering a fumble during the win over the Rams. Jones played despite a sore foot that caused him to miss the previous game.

Joe Kay

AP Sports Writer

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