Ah, Thanksgiving. The time of year when NFL fanbases are doing one of two things: their path to the playoffs or mock drafts. At this point in time, Bengals fans are more focused on the former as they currently sit as the AFC's seventh seed. That will, of course, fluctuate over the next few weeks, but there's also that road to the AFC North crown and a guaranteed home playoff game—which is exactly what we're about to focus on.
Chasing The Path To The Top...
The Bengals appear to be preparing for the return of Ja'Marr Chase, which couldn't come at a better time. While Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd performed well in his absence, Chase has another level to him that the other two just can't reach. Quarterback Joe Burrow seems relatively confident that Chase this weekend.
If that's the case, that means Chase would be available—barring any setbacks—against the Chiefs. There aren't many teams in the NFL that have the offensive firepower to keep pace with Kansas City, but with Ja'Marr Chase the Bengals are one of them.
So how does that lead up to the potential division lead? The Bengals have seven games left against teams with a combined record of 43-27. They face one team with a losing record (Cleveland), one that's at .500 (Tampa Bay) and beyond that all their upcoming opponents have winning records–including all four division leaders in the AFC.
For the Ravens, their remaining schedule is far more forgiving as they face just one team with a winning record: the Cincinnati Bengals. The Ravens also get the Jaguars, Steelers twice, Browns, Broncos, and Falcons while currently holding a one game lead over Cincinnati, plus the tie-breaker.
For the sake of argument, let's say the Bengals win the last game against the Ravens to even that score up. That means the Ravens would have to lose all three division games or a combination of four of the remaining six to finish the season 9-7. The best the Bengals can finish in the division is 3-3, whereas Baltimore is 2-0 right now. At best, Bengals fans would need Baltimore to finish 3-3 in the division to eliminate that tie-breaker.
On top of all of that, the Bengals would have to win four of their remaining seven games to reach 10-6 for the one game lead. So you're looking at home games against the Chiefs, Browns, Bills, and Ravens. Let's say they split, going 2-2 including the win against the Ravens. Now, you need two of three on the road against the Titans, Bucs, and Patriots. Their two most beatable road opponents as of right now are going to be the Patriots and Buccaneers.
The path for them to win the division means beating the Browns and Ravens at home, which is definitely attainable. Then two of three on the road. Also, very attainable. However, that means Bengals fans also have to become huge cheerleaders for the Steelers—twice—and the Browns over the course of the next seven weeks. Then find a minimum of one more loss between the Broncos, Jags, or Falcons.
Certainly not an easy ask, but the NFL is unpredictable this season, so anything is possible.
...But Let's Take A Moment
Seeing as how it's Thanksgiving, let's step away from football for just a moment. At this stage in our lives, it's so easy to overlook the little things in a quest to distract ourselves from every day stresses. No matter what the stress is, there is so much that many of us take for granted.
Take a moment today and reflect on the blessings you have. Whether that's family, good friends, your job, the roof over your head - all of it.
To get somewhat personal, this is the third straight holiday where I'll be thinking of someone dear that I lost over the previous year. This time around it was two people in the span of a month; a close friend and the woman I looked at as a second mother most of my life, both of which I lost to cancer during the summer.
So many times we always think to ourselves, "Oh, I'll mention that next time I see them," or "it's not a big deal if I don't go to this gathering, I'll just get to the next one," never knowing when the last one is going to be.
So take a look around and be thankful for those you are surrounded by. Hug your spouse or your kids a little tighter, call that friend you haven't spoken to in a little while, share the holiday spirit with all those you've saved for "next time" because while any time is the right time, this season especially is when you should dive head first into the spirit of the season and make sure you got to that "next time."
I truly, from the bottom of my heart, wish all of you a great holiday with your friends and families and I hope that for each and every one of you, it's the best one yet.
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