CINCINNATI (AP) — The chances have dwindled down to this one.
The Bengals’ streak of reaching the playoffs a club-record five straight seasons is on the line in Baltimore this weekend .
Win there, and they’re still in the hunt for another AFC North championship.
Lose there, and it’s all pretty much over.
“We keep saying every week we’ve got a chance, we’re still in it,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “At some point, we’ve got to be in it.”
The Bengals (3-6-1) are mired in third place after a horrendous stretch of games.
Since the end of September, they’ve won only one game — against the winless Browns at home.
They’re 1-4-1 in their past six games, their worst such stretch since they dropped 10 straight in 2010 while on their way to a 4-12 finish. That’s the most recent time they failed to reach the playoffs.
They’re very fortunate to be still in it. The Ravens (5-5) have dropped five of their past seven games. The Steelers (5-5) lost Ben Roethlisberger for a time and have struggled to regain their footing.
With two games left against the Ravens and one at home against the Steelers , Cincinnati has a chance to win the division if it runs the table and the Steelers stumble.
Baltimore has the toughest closing schedule, which includes a game at New England. The Ravens finish on the road against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
So there’s still a longshot chance, so long as the Bengals win in Baltimore and keep going.
“We’ve still got most of our division games left,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “We’ve just got to win out.”
And they’ll have to win out without their top two receivers. A.J. Green strained his right hamstring during a 16-12 loss to Buffalo on Sunday and is sidelined indefinitely.
Running back Giovani Bernard — second on the team in receptions — tore his left ACL and is out for the season.
The Bengals are going to have to redesign an offense that was struggling even before the injuries.
“It’s not just at the positions where guys got hurt,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “It’s all over. There are going to be new people that are the onus of what we do. They’re going to wear the hat and they’re going to have to carry us.”
The Bengals have dropped first-round playoff games each of the past five seasons, an NFL record.
They haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, the sixth-longest streak of playoff futility in league history.
In order to have another chance at ending the streak, they’ve got to start a winning streak.
“We continue to let opportunities slip away,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “At some point, we’ve got to go and win games or we will be out of it.”
NOTES: RB Cedric Peerman returned to practice on Wednesday. He broke his left forearm in preseason and went on injured reserve with a chance to return. Peerman made the Pro Bowl last season for his play on special teams. He can practice for up to three weeks before he has to be activated. … The Bengals had to choose between bringing back Peerman or rookie CB William Jackson III, who tore a chest muscle before the season. Bernard’s injury weighed in favor of the Bengals adding a running back. … Among those held out of practice were Kirkpatrick (knee), WR Brandon LaFell (knee), TE C.J. Uzomah (calf) and S Shawn Williams (hamstring). … QB Andy Dalton was limited with a sore passing shoulder, but is expected to play on Sunday.
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