Thursday night's game against the Baltimore Ravens was not a must-win for the Cincinnati Bengals. The 34-20 loss did make it significantly tougher for the Bengals to make the playoffs, however, especially with Joe Burrow suffering a significant injury in the loss.
Entering the prime-time showdown, Cincinnati's chances at making the playoffs were 48.6%, according to SportsLine data scientist Stephen Oh. Those odds dropped to 38% after the loss, and now they're almost nonexistent with Bengals head coach Zac Taylor announcing that Burrow torn a ligament that will require . Oh now gives the Bengals a 1.3% chance of making the postseason.
The loss dropped the Bengals to 5-5 and 0-3 in the division while essentially ending any hopes of a third consecutive AFC North title. Cincinnati's remaining division games are against Pittsburgh in Weeks 12 and 16 and at home against the Cleveland Browns in Week 18.
Thursday night's loss dropped the Bengals to 10th in the AFC standings, just behind Las Vegas (5-5) and Indianapolis (5-5) and just ahead of Buffalo (5-5). Houston (5-4), who defeated the Bengals this past Sunday, would own the AFC's seventh and final playoff spot if the postseason started today.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that the Bengals have the NFL's toughest remaining schedule. Six of the Bengals' seven remaining games are against teams with winning record (the Colts, their Week 14 opponent, is the only team that does not currently have a winning record).
Given Burrow's injury, the Bengals will be facing their toughest tests over the next two weeks. Cincinnati cannot afford a loss to the Steelers, who at 6-3 are currently fifth in the conference standings. It would most likely have to run the table if it loses to both Pittsburgh and Jacksonville.
Obviously, many of the Bengals' playoff hopes rested on Burrow's health. But even without Burrow, there have still been long-standing issues.
Cincinnati's offensive line hasn't performed to the level many thought it would after acquiring Orlando Brown Jr. this past offseason. The running game relies too much on Joe Mixon, and the passing game has been largely out of sync with Tee Higgins missing time with injuries. Defensively, the Bengals have quickly become one of the league's worst teams against the run after allowing 188 yards and three touchdowns against Houston and 157 yards and two scores against Baltimore.
While things may look bleak, there is some semblance of hope if you're a Bengals fan. At quarterback, the Bengals received a gutsy effort from Jake Browning in relief work on Thursday night. He led Cincinnati on a pair of scoring drives, took care of the ball and hit Ja'Marr Chase late in the game for his first career touchdown. It's conceivable he can do similar things to what Gardner Minshew and Joshua Dobbs have done for their teams in recent weeks.
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In addition, Cincinnati's tight ends have picked up the slack as of late. And the offense still has other capable weapons in Mixon, Chase and Tyler Boyd. There are things the offense can do to better protect Burrow from a schematic standpoint.
After facing the likes of C.J. Stroud and Lamar Jackson in recent weeks, the Bengals will face Kenny Pickett, Minshew and Dobbs (the last of whom has played extremely well during his first two games with the Vikings) in three out of the next four weeks. They're also slated to face Browns rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson in Week 18.
On special teams, the Bengals still have one of the league's better kickers in Evan McPherson, who is surely motivated to play better down the stretch after missing four field goals during the season's first 10 games.
As alluded to above, the AFC is full of five- and six-win teams. Only the Ravens (8-3) and Chiefs (7-2) have started to separate from the field. It's possible that a nine-win team makes the playoffs, but given the Bengals' record vs. AFC teams (1-5), they will most likely have to win at least 10 games unless the Steelers, Browns, Texans, Colts, Raiders and Bills all go into a tailspin.
When looking at their schedule, the Bengals will likely need to win at home against the Colts and Cardinals, and win their remaining three games against divisional foes. If they defeat the Colts and Cardinals but go 2-1 in their remaining games against the North, the Bengals would probably have to win on the road at either Jacksonville or Kansas City, which won't be easy.
Other teams have won the Super Bowl while being a similar spot the Bengals currently find themselves in. The 1988 49ers won it all after a 6-5 start. The 2005 Steelers won eight straight games (including Super Bowl XL) after starting 7-5. But both of those teams had their starting quarterbacks in tow, which is something the Bengals currently can't count on.
For more from Stephen Oh and the SportsLine team, check out their daily YouTube show "Inside the Lines."