By the end of the day, the Cincinnati Bengals could have a wild-card berth or possibly even the AFC North Division clinched.
But in order for either of those to happen, Cincinnati (9-5) first must beat the resurgent Minnesota Vikings (4-9-1) this afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium, where the Bengals are a perfect 6-0.
A win coupled with a Miami loss in Buffalo earns the Bengals at least a wild card.
A win and a Baltimore loss at home against New England clinches the division.
A win and absolutely nothing else is all the Bengals have been focused on and talking about all week.
“The biggest key is we don’t pay attention to all of that mess,” Bengals offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth said. “I think it’s key to really not wrap yourself in the success or failure that other teams are having. Even though you wouldn’t read a paper or watch a TV interview right now and think we’re in that position, we actually control our destiny. So that’s the only thing we need to worry about. Nothing else really matters. Win the last two games, and we don’t have to be nervous or anxious about any other scenario out there.”
Even with a loss today, the Bengals still will control their own destiny in terms of winning the AFC North. As long as they beat Baltimore next week, they will clinch the division title.
But while the situation may not be urgent, the Bengals insist they are.
“You’ve got to put all the cards in the basket or all your cookies in the basket, however you want to look at it,” safety Chris Crocker said. “You’re all in at this point. You’ve really got to win. Just win. Doesn’t matter how it looks, just win.”
“There’s no other words to say than ‘We got to win this, man,’ to accomplish our goals,” added defensive tackle Domata Peko. “It’s a big game, it’s a home game and we’ve been playing really well in The Jungle here. So we’re excited to be home. We know we have a tough challenge ahead of us with Adrian Peterson, one of the best backs the past decade or so.”
While Peterson obviously is centerpiece of the Minnesota offense, the Vikings still were able to continue their recent run of explosiveness last week while he sat out with a foot injury.
Minnesota has averaged 444.2 yards and 30.8 points per game with a 2-1-1 record since Matt Cassel regained the starting job at quarterback.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “Adrian Peterson is probably the finest running back in the league right now. But they’ve got a lot of other guys to go with him. They bring (Greg) Jennings over from Green Bay. You’ve got Jerome (Simpson) outside. They’ve got (Cordarrelle) Patterson that they drafted. So a lot of weapons within the group, and they’re playing really well.”
The Vikings are out of the playoff race and have been since a 1-7 start. But they have many of the same players that took them to the playoffs last year, and no one on the roster is looking ahead to the offseason just yet.
“Our veteran leadership has been tremendous, and that’s what you need this time of the year, when you’re not a playoff team,” Frazier said. “How do you hold it together? We’ve got some guys that are strong in that area. I told them I know how hard it is to be in December and not preparing for the playoffs and not having something to shoot for other than trying to get this win against this team. Their attitudes have been terrific throughout.”
With Minnesota’s momentum and attitudes and Cincinnati’s circumstances, today’s game could have a playoff feel. And by tonight, the playoffs could be real.
Minnesota Vikings (4-9-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (9-5), 1 p.m., Ch. 19, 45, 700-AM, 1530-AM, 102.7-FM, 104.7-FM