Joe Burrow Will Sit In Week 18, as the Bengals Punt on Stealing the AFC Top Seed

The Cincinnati Bengals have not won a playoff game for 30 years, so you will have to excuse them if they’re just not in the mood to take any chances.

Yes, there is a scenario in Week 18 that results in the Bengals overtaking the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs and securing the top seed in the AFC Playoffs and the coveted first-round bye that goes with it.

But the odds of the Bengals hitting such a lottery are so long, the team decided Wednesday the reward simply isn’t worth the risk. Joe Burrow, fresh off two brilliant performances the past two weeks, will not play Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. Instead, the AFC North champions will take their chances in the Wild Card Round with a home game and a healthy quarterback.

And, let’s face it, first-round byes be darned, it’s the right call.

Burrow has nothing left to prove after two phenomenal weeks delivered the Bengals a division title

Joe Burrow will not play Sunday against the Browns
Joe Burrow | Dylan Buell/Getty Images

It seems like a million years ago now, but Burrow, in his second professional season, is only a year removed from a torn ACL. His recovery could not have gone any better this season, but it’s still a reminder of how fragile quarterbacks are, especially in a new, 17-game season.

Burrow has been historically excellent the past two weeks, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to post consecutive 400-yard, four-touchdown games without throwing a single interception. In the process, the Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens and Chiefs to clinch the AFC North with a 10-6 record.

But at the very end of the stirring comeback victory over the Chiefs, Burrow injured his “good” knee and it was Allen who took the final two kneel-down snaps that set up Evan McPherson’s game-winning field goal.

Burrow and the team have said the injury is not serious – Burrow could have continued playing Sunday if needed – but it was enough of a scare that the team decided to sit Burrow this Sunday and give the knee an extra week to recover, even if it means not giving themselves the best chance to win against Cleveland and hope the other dominoes fall in their favor.

Technically, the door is open for the Bengals taking the AFC top seed, but not by much

The Burrow decision was also made in light of running back Joe Mixon’s unavailability because of a positive Covid-19 test that has landed him on the reserve list and forced him out of Sunday’s game. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses and walk away.

And when you consider the other pieces that need to fall into place this weekend for the Bengals to move up from their current spot at No. 3 in the AFC to the top spot, even a win this weekend was hardly a guarantee.

Because the Bengals defeated the Chiefs (11-5) last week, and with a better conference record than the Tennessee Titans (11-5), the Bengals (10-6) would be poised to leapfrog both teams with a win over Cleveland and losses by both Kansas City and Tennessee.

Sounds great on paper, but that would mean the Chiefs would have to lose to the 7-9 Broncos on Saturday, then the Titans would have to lose to the 4-12 Houston Texans on Saturday. Not impossible, but not very likely. And if the Chiefs win or tie on Saturday, the point is moot before the Bengals even take the field on Sunday.

Who’s to say Brandon Allen can’t win this game against the Mayfield-less Browns?

Just because Burrow and Mixon won’t be playing on Sunday, the Browns’ situation isn’t a whole lot better. Baker Mayfield has already been ruled out and the Browns have lost three straight and were eliminated from postseason contention last week before they even took the field on Monday night against the Steelers.

So, a team with nothing to play for, without its starting quarterback, playing on a short week? You have to think even Brandon Allen can go out there and do some damage and bring home a victory.

And assuming he does, regardless of which of the top three seeds the Bengals end up in, they know they will not have to face the New England Patriots in the first round. As the seeding stands right now, it appears the Indianapolis Colts will be Cincinnati’s Wild Card Round opponent.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference

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