CINCINNATI (AP) — The Bengals are trying to hold onto first place in the AFC North and fill their stadium for two final home games that will decide their fate.
They’ve got a lot of work to do in both areas.
The Bengals (9-5) need to beat the Vikings (4-9-1) at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday to move a step closer to clinching the division title. They’ve led the division by at least two games for most of the season, but it’s down to one over Baltimore (8-6) with two games left.
“You’ve got to put 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.”
With two weeks to go, the Bengals are still in very good position to make the playoffs for an unprecedented third year in a row. But a 30-20 loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday night tightened things and made a lot of their fans do a double-take.
The Bengals haven’t sold out their game Sunday against Minnesota. Roughly 3,500 tickets remain. The league gave them a one-day extension to sell out and avoid having the game blacked out on local television.
The Bengals are in line to get the No. 3 seed in the playoffs, behind Denver (11-3) and New England (10-4). They beat the Patriots at Paul Brown Stadium, giving them the head-to-head tiebreaker if they finish with the same record.
Cincinnati would clinch a playoff spot with a win and Miami losing at Buffalo on Sunday. They’ll clinch the AFC North title with a win and a Baltimore loss to the Patriots.
If both the Bengals and Ravens win, it’ll come down to the final week with Baltimore playing at Paul Brown Stadium. The winner gets the division title. The loser could be eliminated from playoff contention.
“Honestly, I think we’re going to win (on Sunday) and I think Baltimore, they have momentum and they’re going to win too,” Crocker said. “I think that last game’s going to mean a lot.”
STEELERS LB FINED FOR HUBER HIT: Pittsburgh linebacker Terence Garvin has been fined $25,000 for his hit on Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber in the Steelers’ victory over the Bengals on Sunday night.
Huber sustained a broken jaw and a cracked vertebrae when Garvin decked him near midfield during Antonio Brown’s 67-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Garvin was not penalized on the play. Huber lay still on the field for several minutes before walking off under his own power. He was scheduled to have surgery on his jaw Friday and is out for the year.
Garvin said Wednesday the play happened very quickly and didn’t have time to think about it before hitting Huber just below the chin. Garvin added he plans to speak with Huber at some point and is hoping for Huber’s eventual return.