The Cincinnati Bengals will not be playing star quarterback Joe Burrow in their Week 18 game against the Cleveland Browns. It's a decision that could have a huge impact on which team the New England Patriots play in the AFC Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs.
Burrow wasn't able to finish his team's Week 17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, but he told reporters Wednesday that his knee is fine and that he's giving it some rest in Week 18.
Burrow isn't the only notable offensive player who won't play for the Bengals in their regular season finale. Running back Joe Mixon also has been ruled out after testing positive for COVID-19, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. The Bengals have several other players on the COVID-19 reserve list.
How exactly does this situation impact the Patriots?
Here's how these teams would slot in the final AFC standings if the Bengals lose to the Browns, the Patriots beat the Miami Dolphins and the Buffalo Bills defeat the New York Jets.
3. Buffalo Bills, 11-6 (AFC East champs)
4. Cincinnati Bengals, 10-7 (AFC North champs)
5. New England Patriots, 11-6 (First wild card)
In this scenario, the Patriots would travel to Cincinnati and play the Bengals in their AFC Wild Card playoff game. The most likely Wild Card Weekend opponents for the Patriots are the Bengals and Bills. ESPN's Football Power Index model gives Patriots-Bengals a higher chance of happening.
The Bengals, given their playoff inexperience and other factors, are a better matchup for the Patriots in the Wild Card round. Zac Taylor versus Bill Belichick also is a huge coaching mismatch favoring New England.
A third Patriots-Bills game would be a lot of fun and help take this AFC East rivalry to a higher level. But based on Cincinnati's situation with Burrow and Mixon both not playing Sunday, it seems increasingly likely that we'll soon see the first ever Patriots-Bengals playoff game.