In 2008, the Arizona Cardinals finished 9-7. Four of their losses were by at least three touchdowns, including a 40-point loss in the next-to-last game of the regular season.
That year, the Cardinals came within 35 seconds of winning the Super Bowl.
Last season, the Seattle Seahawks finished 7-9 but snuck into the playoffs as the champion of the NFC West. All nine losses were by at least 15 points.
In their playoff opener, the Seahawks dethroned the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints 41-36.
Look, I’m not saying that the Bengals are headed to the Super Bowl or even that they are going to win next Saturday in Houston.
But they have a chance.
“Exactly,” said Nate Clements after making the playoffs for the first time in his 11-year NFL career. “That’s what we’ve been playing for the whole season. If you ask any team, the mindset is to win the trophy.”
“We put ourselves in position where we didn’t necessarily have to win (against Baltimore) and that’s all that matters right now,” said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. “We’re the sixth seed and all of our goals are still attainable.”
“We played 16 games and had to do something right to even have a chance,” said Bernard Scott. “It’s like a fresh start now.”
While Sunday’s game vs. Baltimore was billed as a “win or you’re in” showdown, the game that truly decided the Bengals playoff fate was played 56 days earlier when Cincinnati rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit to win at Tennessee 24-17. That gave Cincinnati the head-to-head tiebreaker for the AFC’s final playoff spot when each team finished the season 9-7.
“You never know,” said Andrew Whitworth. “You look back at that game – we were down big at halftime and came back to win it. What a special win that was and we didn’t know quite how special it was at the time. Now it’s really special.”
“I always talk to the players when we play AFC teams about how important those games are going to be,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “Every win counts.”
The Bengals open the playoffs against a Houston team that ended the regular season with consecutive losses to Carolina (6-10), Indianapolis (2-14), and Tennessee (9-7). The Texans haven’t won since stealing a 20-19 victory at Cincinnati on a touchdown pass with :02 remaining. Houston did not have star WR Andre Johnson in that game, but it’s an opponent that the Bengals feel they are capable of beating.
“That we do,” said Lawson. “They know us and how we play and we know how they play. It’s going to be a good game and I’m looking forward to it.”
“We shouldn’t have let it come down to them having the ball with a chance to win it at the end,” said Andy Dalton. “They’re a good team, but we’re going to give them our best shot.”
“They have their receiver back so it will be a little bit different team than we saw last time,” said Coach Lewis. “We have to go to work. It’s our chance now to go be World Champions.”
For a team that was widely expected to be among the NFL’s worst squads going into the season, and began the year with the youngest roster in the AFC, being one of the 12 teams that are still playing is a remarkable accomplishment.
“This team is young, it’s talented, and I have a feeling we’re going to have a lot of chances like this,” said Whitworth. “But we’re in the dance and we have an opportunity to do what we want. Every team that gets in there has a chance.”
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