We've all seen the Steeler playoff scenarios as articulated by Sick Puppy below:
1) Pittsburgh win + Houston loss/tie + New York loss/tie
2) Pittsburgh win + Baltimore loss/tie + Denver loss/tie + New York loss/tie
3) Pittsburgh win + Houston loss/tie + Baltimore loss/tie
We know the Jets and Ravens "control their own destiny," and that everyone else is involved in complicated tie breakers. We are all wondering how much New England and Cincinnati care about their games vs. the Texans and the Jets. What hasn't yet been fully realized is the significance that the time of day of the games next week plays a role.
At 1:00 pm, Pittsburgh and Houston play. So no matter what happens, if Pittsburgh wins, they will be technically alive at the end of the game. New England's 3 seed will be in doubt so they should play hard.
Let's say New England does their job and beats Houston. Then we only need either a Ravens lost at 4:15 or a Jets loss on SNF. Oakland is certainly a wild card, but if they lose to the Ravens, we are dependent on a Bengals win on SNF to go to the playoffs.
Will the Bengals care? If New England wins, the Bengals will have the 4th seed unless they win and also beat New England on Strength of Victory. Right now, that is up in the air, and is a very close race. But by 8pm on Sunday, it could be obvious that the Bengals will lose that race and thus have nothing to play for. There is a 50/50 chance that the game won't make any difference to them.
If New England were to lose to Houston, we'll be cheering hard for the Raiders and Chiefs at 4:15. If both of those games were to go our way, would Cincinnati have anything to play for in this case? They would have the 3rd seed if they won, and by 8:15 there's a 50/50 chance they will have already won the Strength of Victory race with New England, rendering the game meaningless.
So whether New England wins or loses, because of Strength of Victory possibilities, there's a 50/50 chance the Bengals will have already locked up either the 3rd or 4th seed. It's bad enough that they might not try hard if their seed was in doubt; now the NFL has handed a great big late holiday present to the Jets.
In other words, cheer hard for the Patriots and Raiders!
Also keep in mind that New England and Cincinnati are facing teams they could potentially play in the first round of the playoffs! If they beat the teams, they'll eliminate them, and if they lose, they could play them again the next week. So will they even fully gameplan? Why should they, when the other team will be? That way NE/CIN can see their full hand of cards while keeping theirs secret. That's bad enough, but pushing the Bengals game back to when everything else is decided makes the situation even worse.
Our odds don't look as good as the scenarios suggest.