The Bengals may be the real winner of ‘The Tie That Wasn’t’

Twitter was cheering on Las Vegas to finish its 2021 regular season on Sunday with a quarterback kneeling and a draw, but the Raiders had business decision To achieve: a tie, opening the playoffs against the second-seeded Kansas City Chiefs, who have outlasted them 89-23 this season? Or win and face the No. 4 Cincinnati Bengals?

Captain Daniel Carlson’s sending the Raiders to Ohio instead of Missouri might have been a good call for the Raiders – but it was great for the Bengals.

The Bengals were one of the hottest teams in the AFC during the final third of the season, buoyed by second-year quarterback Joe Burrow and rookie Ja’Marr Chase — whose chemistry with his LSU teammates was less explosive in the NFL. They clinched the AFC North, one of the most competitive teams of the 32-team era, in Week 17 with a victory over Kansas City. And because the Raiders won, Cincinnati has an easier path to the conference championship.

Winning that week 17 by foot against the Chiefs completed Cincinnati sweep the season of the Asian qualifying teams. That record includes the Bengals’ 32-13 win over the Raiders in Week 11 – a win that started 5-2 between their farewell and the final week of the regular season.

After his decisiveness against the Chiefs, Cincinnati took its foot off the gas in Week 18. Several major starters sat down for their pointless loss to the Cleveland Browns, and Chase played just long enough to break the Bengals franchise record for Yards receive one season. But over the past seven weeks, the Bengals have been better across the board than most of their playoff competitors:

The Bengals outperformed most of their competitors

Ranking in point, yard and EPA margins by attack, defense and special teams for the Asian Qualifiers teams in weeks 11-17

a team
Goal margin
yard margin
turning off. Environmental Protection Agency
Dave. Environmental Protection Agency
Sp. Divide Environmental Protection Agency
#1 Tennessee Titans 5 2 7 1 6
# 2 Kansas City Chiefs 1 6 1 3 4
# 3 buffalo bills 4 4 4 5 5
# 4 Cincinnati Bengals 3 3 2 4 2
# 5 Las Vegas Raiders 6 5 5 7 3
#6 New England Patriots 2 1 3 2 1
#7 Pittsburgh Steelers 7 7 6 6 7

Ranks among the Asian qualifying teams only.

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

But as dangerous as the Bengals were in the long run, it was still in their interest to sidestep as many of the AFC’s traditional powers as possible.

If the Raiders had tied or lost against the L.A. Chargers, the 10-7 New England Patriots would have been the #5 seed and headed to Cincinnati. According to FiveThirtyEight’s Elo forecast, the Bengals could only have 60 percent of the shot to beat the Patriots, instead of a 74 percent chance of getting past the invaders’ goal.

Meanwhile, Butts should now travel to Buffalo with only a 30 percent chance of winning. Given the massive advantage the Chiefs have over the Pittsburgh Steelers, there is a 60.2% chance that if the Bengals win, you will lose all of your AFC cards. As the No. 4 seed, the top-seeded Bengals will face the Tennessee Titans – whose quarterback-adjusted Elo rating 1590 (as opposed to the Chiefs’ 1689) is only 20 points higher than the Cincinnati rank. That additional clearing of Bengals’ path to the AFC Championship game is actually thanks to another Week 18 about to fall.

The Houston Texans went on a surprising run 25-7 in the second half against the Titans, twice inside a field goal from a Tennessee tie. Had Ryan Tanehill and Julio Jones not maintained the Titans’ lead, the Chiefs—much stronger than Tennessee by Elo, DVOA-adjusted value for football above average (DVOA), Jeff Sagarin ratings and distributed strength ratings in Pro Football Focus—would have been the opponent Likely for the Bengals in the second round.

Titanic ship I did He lost to the Texas in Week 11. He lost to the Steelers and Patriots, as well as a close shave against the San Francisco 49ers, and it’s no wonder that during the same Week 11 to Week 17, the Giants ranked fifth in the scoring margin out of seven AFC teams. This is the team most likely to stand between the Bengals and the conference title berth. And if Kansas City? Well, Cincinnati just beat them two weeks ago.

Here’s the full breakdown of how our model sees the Bengals’ opportunities in each of the what-if scenarios:

Sunday’s result made the Bengals’ road easier

The odds of the Cincinnati Bengals making each round of the 2021 playoffs where the field stands versus if the Chargers-Raiders game ended differently, according to FiveThirtyEight prediction model

Bengals Odds Scenario to Div. round to Conf. hero to the Super Bowl Super Bowl win
2021 actually 74% 24% 8% 3%
LAC / LVR . Tie 60 21 7 3
LAC/LVR equalizer + TEN loss 60 18 6 3

Anything can happen when a toe meets skin and pads start cracking that weekend’s energy. Maybe the Steelers annoyed the Chiefs. The Patriots may have re-enacted a physically dominant Week 13 win over the Bills at Buffalo. Perhaps the Bengal Raiders will pay for the loss in the eleventh week. But before he spent Week 18 resting his heels, Cincinnati’s hot play was inspiring national headlines about whether it was “the best team in the AFC,” or “the team no one wants to face.”

According to our model, the Raiders had a better match by playing to win on Sunday night; They had only a 14 percent chance of pissing off the bosses. But they still only have a 26 percent chance of getting out of Cincinnati. As the Raiders volunteered to face them, the odds of the Bengals winning their first playoff game since before German reunification have skyrocketed — and Burrow and Chase will get a chance to thank them personally.

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