As you may have heard, the Steelers LaMarr Woodley believes that the Bengals and the Patriots will not try their hardest to win their games this Sunday in order to prevent the Steelers from making the playoffs.
And to be honest, if I were a member of the Bengal or Patriot organizations I'd encourage that very action.
The AFC playoffs, if the Patriots and Bengals lose on Sunday, mixed with a Ravens win over Oakland, will look like this:
6. Baltimore @ 3. New England
5. New York @ 4. Cincinnati
Obviously New England will lose their game to Houston for two reasons; first off, they don't want to play the Steelers, second, they would much rather play the Jets than the Ravens in the first round.
So essentially, New England will be putting their eggs in the basket of the Bengals attempting to win in order to get the number 3 seed. But the Bengals have the benefit of playing the night game, they'll see what happens before their game, and they will be able to know that if they lose they play the Jets in the first round.
It's not a shot on the Jets as much as it's strategy. Obviously the Jets are a very capable team; they have a great running game, a solid offensive line, and a contending defense. The reasoning is, not to anger the Jets fans out there, that the Jets quarterback is really, really, really, bad (compared to the 11 other Quarterbacks in the playoffs). Why would you want to play the Ravens or the Texans or the Broncos or (heavens forbid) the Steelers, when you could play the Mark Sanchez lead New York Jets.
A lot of people also believe the Colts pursuit (or lack there of) of perfection ended purposely to the Jets for this reason. Bill Polian is no idiot, he got all his numbers and figures in before kickoff with the Jets on Sunday and realized that if things play out the way he expects them to (which seems almost definite now) the Colts would be guaranteed to host either the Ravens, the Bengals, or the Jets in the divisional round.
Since the Tony Dungy era began in 2002, the Colts have played those teams a combined 14 times, and have only one true loss (Sundays game to the Jets does not count) to those teams, a 41-0 2002 Wild Card loss to the Jets. Obviously, if given the opportunity to play one of those three teams or the New England Patriots or Pittsburgh Steelers, Polian would know what the correct answer is.
The only thing that's guaranteed in the NFL is that nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, but what the Colts, Patriots, and Bengals will do in letting the Jets make the playoffs, and keeping the Steelers out, is ensure the easiest route to Miami.
For the Patriots, that route will include (if things stand) Baltimore, San Diego, and Indianapolis consecutively (that's brutal). For the Bengals, their route will include New York, then a trip to Indianapolis, which if they get through they'll likely have to travel back to San Diego. And for the Colts, they sit pretty with a bye, then play either the Ravens, Jets, or Bengals before playing one of their two biggest rivals in the AFC Championship game.
I guess Herm was wrong, you don't always play to win the game.