One bye week down, one to go.
That’s the goal for the Cincinnati Bengals (7-4), who enter December one game behind the New England Patriots (8-3) in the AFC playoff race for the No. 2 seed and the first-round bye that comes with it.
Because of their 13-6 victory against New England in Week 5, the Bengals would win the tiebreaker should the teams finish with the same record. Indianapolis also is one game back at 7-4, and Cincinnati will play host to the Colts on Dec. 8.
And 9-2 Denver, with its loss to New England on Sunday night and a game at 9-2 Kansas City this week, no longer appears to be a lock for the No. 1 seed.
It should lead to a lot of scoreboard watching in December.
“I’m not going to lie, you do see stuff like that,” wide receiver Marvin Jones said. “But at the same time, you still have to be focused on the task at hand. We all know we’re still in the running, but that’s not going to change what we have to do.”
The first thing the Bengals need to do is lock up the AFC North, which would guarantee at least one home playoff game.
They lead Baltimore and Pittsburgh by two games with five to go, and one of those teams will fall a little farther behind Thursday night when they meet in Baltimore.
Cincinnati plays at Pittsburgh in Week 15 and then will host Baltimore in the Week 17 season finale.
“We control our own destiny the last five games,” middle linebacker Rey Maualga said, referring to the division race. “If we win out, who knows what will happen. We could get a first-round bye. And a home game. But our focus right now is on San Diego.”
Heading home: Sunday’s game in San Diego will be a homecoming of sorts for a handful of Bengals who hail from hometowns in California.
“I’m definitely looking forward to going back out there meeting up with a lot of my family,” said Jones, a Fontana native who made his first career start in last year’s game at San Diego. “It’s always good to go back and see them and have them watch me.”
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict (Corona), backup quarterback Josh Johnson (San Diego), linebacker Rey Maualuga (Eureka), wide receiver Ryan Whalen (Alamo) and safety Tony Dye (Corona) also are California natives.
“I’ve got like 45 or 50 ticket requests I’m trying to deal with,” Maualuga said. “My family thinks tickets grow on trees.”
Stat correction: The NFL has adjusted a statistics decision from the Cleveland game. With 10:56 left in the fourth quarter, Michael Johnson was credited with a solo sack of Browns quarterback Jason Campbell. It has been changed to a shared sack with Wallace Gilberry.
That lowers Johnson’s season total to three and raises Gilberry’s to 5.5.