Following yesterday’s news that Cleveland quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has played 12 games over the past three years, will not play again this season due to injury, the odds on how the playoff picture in the AFC will shake out changed, significantly.
According to ESPN Analytics, the Browns saw their odds of advancing to the playoffs plummet from 80% to 63% (which isn’t really too bad) while other fringe postseason contenders including the Texans (54% to 58%), Steelers (55% to 58%) and Bengals (36% to 39%) all saw their chances increase.
The Bengals, who were upset by the Texans last week, will have the chance to dramatically improve their odds of making the playoffs when they take the field in Baltimore tonight against the Ravens (7-3) in primetime on Thursday Night Football. The Bengals — who are 5-4 after nine games for the third consecutive season, but nevertheless managed to win the division in 2021 and 2022 — lost to Baltimore in Week 2. The Bengals also lost to the Browns (6-3) earlier this season. Cleveland is taking on Pittsburgh (6-3) on Sunday, so Week 11 is going to be pivotal in the AFC North with all of the division’s teams playing a divisional game.
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The Bengals, who will be underdogs by 3.5 points, could knock Baltimore out of first place with a win as the Ravens have already lost to both the Browns and Steelers this season. Cincinnati has yet to win a game in the division (0-2) and also has a very poor conference record (1-4), so winning tonight is very important if the Bengals want to make the playoffs and advance to the AFC Championship Game for the third straight year.
“It’s a big part of the year for both of us,” said Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow. “They’re coming off a loss, we’re coming off a loss. We’re both trying to win the division, so it’s a big game.”
In a division that has four teams with winning records — all of whom would have qualified for the playoffs if they had started last weekend — it certainly is. The winner of tonight’s matchup isn’t guaranteed anything given the quality of the other teams in the division, but the loser is sure to have their work cut out for them if they want to make the playoffs, never mind finish in first place in the AFC North.
“Every game for us is a must-win for us, not just because it’s a division game,” said Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson. “But I believe our team is definitely a lot hungrier just from what happened Sunday in a division loss in a close game.”
Expect another close one this evening, in what will likely be the best Thursday Night Football matchup of the year.