This matchup is the reality of what the NFL schedule-makers do to division winners. Though it isn't as punishing to division winners as it has been in the past, it still makes a difference. The Bengals entered the season with the toughest schedule in the AFC. The Broncos have played one of the tougher schedules in the conference. As a result, the third-place finishers of the previous year have moved ahead of them -- Baltimore in the NFC North and San Diego in the AFC West. What will be interesting to see is whether Mike Shanahan could pull off one of the biggest decisions he's made in recent years. He benched Jake Plummer around Thanksgiving, figuring Plummer wasn't going to take the team any further than the wild-card round of the playoffs. His thinking was if Jay Cutler, the rookie, could take the team into the playoffs, it sets up a great future. He could be playoff tested along with having a stronger arm than Plummer. Cutler is starting to play well. He threw the ball well in beating the Cardinals. Now, Cutler has two home games to help get the Broncos into the playoffs. This is the bigger test because the Bengals are a better team than 49ers, the Broncos' final regular-season opponent. The Bengals are coming off a disappointing showing against the Colts on Monday night. QB Carson Palmer has a sore shoulder and WR Chad Johnson is banged up. It's a game of desperation that has a playoff feeling to it.
Tom Coughlin knows people are calling for his firing if he doesn't get the Giants into the playoffs. As long as those people aren't named Mara or Tisch, Coughlin should be OK. Still, for all intents and purposes, this game is a playoff game for Coughlin and the Giants. The Saints have won the NFC South and have a chance to lock up the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. But Michael Strahan is trying to come back from his lisfranc foot injury to play this week, and the Giants defense isn't as good without him. His presence will inspire the Giant fans and give some momentum to the defense. What's baffling is why the Giants continue to make critical mistakes. The offense continues to come up with the untimely holding penalty or false start. Under Coughlin, the Giants are supposed to be disciplined. The Giants are fighting for their playoff lives but they can get a wild-card berth if they just play smarter. Coughlin needs to bring that focus together for two more weeks, or some interesting judgments might be coming.