Ravens-Bengals Preview

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.”