The Cincinnati Bengals didn’t look like a team that would
contend for a postseason spot while being routed by the Baltimore
Ravens in the season opener, but both these clubs are playoff-bound
following their regular-season finale Sunday in Cincinnati.
Neither is paying much attention to the seemingly countless
scenarios that will determine its opponent – including one that
would land the Bengals back in Baltimore for next week’s wild-card
Cincinnati (9-6) is locked into the AFC’s No. 6 seed after
beating Pittsburgh 13-10 last week for its sixth victory in seven
games. It eliminated the Steelers from contention after a late
interception of Ben Roethlisberger, which helped set up Josh
Brown’s 43-yard field goal in the closing seconds.
The Bengals, who were dominated in a 44-13 loss at Baltimore on
Sept. 10, would have to visit the Ravens again if they lose Sunday
and New England loses to Miami later in the day. It’s perhaps more
likely that coach Marvin Lewis’ team will wind up traveling to
Foxborough, or even Houston or Denver depending on how things play
“We didn’t kick the season off very good, and now we get to
finish it at home,” Lewis said. “We don’t know who we will play (in
the playoffs) or where. We just have to take it on ourselves.
“More in focus, though, is the Baltimore Ravens. They are a good
team that just won our division and a team that beat the snot out
of us in the first game.”
Baltimore (10-5) clinched its second straight AFC North title
with last week’s 33-14 win over the New York Giants, ending a
three-game losing streak in the process. The Ravens currently stand
as the No. 4 seed and will host fifth-seeded Indianapolis next
weekend unless they win and the Patriots lose.
“We kind of understand what has to happen all across the board
as far as where that could shake out on Sunday,” coach John
Harbaugh said. “But there’s no way to say for sure what’s going to
happen, so we’ll just have to see how it plays out.”
The Ravens, who suffered a heartbreaking 23-20 loss at New
England in last season’s AFC championship game, will have to win on
the road in the playoffs at some point in order to reach the Super
Bowl, and Harbaugh believes this week provides a good primer.
They’ve lost five of their last seven trips to Cincinnati
despite winning the 2011 regular-season finale there 24-16 on Jan.
“It’s a plus for us, an opportunity to go play on the road like
this in a real tough environment,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a rivalry
game, it’s in the division. These two teams play it out pretty good
every single time. So yeah, it’ll help us build up our callouses a
little bit for the playoffs.”
Baltimore has won the last four meetings overall, with Joe
Flacco completing 71.3 percent of his passes with a 106.9 rating in
that stretch after going 21 for 29 for 299 yards and two touchdowns
in the season opener.
Ray Rice has scored seven TDs during the Ravens’ win streak over
the Bengals, and he ran for 191 yards in Baltimore’s last trip to
Both Flacco (309 passing yards, three total TDs) and Rice (158
total yards, receiving TD) shined in the victory over the Giants as
the Ravens gained a season-high 533 yards in their second game
under new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, who replaced Cam
Cameron on Dec. 10.
“It’s about execution, man. It’s a simple word, but it’s a very
tough task to do,” Rice said.
Baltimore rushed for a season-high 224 yards last week, but the
Cincinnati defense has allowed an average of only 58.0 yards on the
ground over its last four contests.
The Bengals, who gave up 430 total yards in their last matchup
with the Ravens, are yielding 264.3 per contest over their last six
– the best in the NFL in that stretch.
“That’s something good to have, especially in the playoffs. You
want to have that good defense,” defensive tackle Domata Peko told
the team’s official website. “We’ve just got to keep it
Cincinnati may need another solid defensive effort given that
Andy Dalton has completed only 54.0 percent of his passes with one
touchdown and four interceptions in three career games versus
Baltimore, which allowed a season-low 186 total yards last
Dalton threw for 278 yards against Pittsburgh, but was picked
off twice and sacked six times. The Bengals also finished with only
14 yards rushing, their fewest since gaining four in a 37-0 loss to
Baltimore on Sept. 24, 2000, when Lewis was the defensive
coordinator for the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens.
Despite both teams having locked up playoff berths, neither
coach plans to take this contest lightly.
“The biggest thing is that you can’t play this game at half
speed,” Harbaugh said. “Our guys are going to play the game full
speed to win.”
Lewis doesn’t want to lose any momentum after his team secured
its first back-to-back playoff appearances since 1981-82.
“The only thing that is at stake is you go out and play to win
the game every time we go,” Lewis said. “That’s important.”