Ravens-Bengals Preview

Despite a demoralizing defeat in Week 16, there are still a

number of ways the Baltimore Ravens can earn the final AFC playoff

spot.

The simplest scenarios require the defending Super Bowl

champions to march into Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday and hand the

AFC North-champion Cincinnati Bengals their first home loss of the

season.

A win by the Ravens (8-7) and a loss by either San Diego or

Miami is the most likely path to extending their season, but

Baltimore can also clinch regardless of the outcome if Miami, San

Diego and Pittsburgh all lose. If the Ravens, Dolphins and Chargers

win, Miami will claim the wild-card spot.

The Bengals (10-5), who still have a shot at a first-round bye,

will not be making things easy on the Ravens by resting their

starters.

“We’re used to these guys,” hobbled Baltimore quarterback Joe

Flacco said. “They’re a good defense. They have been for a few

years now. It’s always a good test to play a division opponent in

their place. They have a lot to play for. We have a lot to play

for. It’s going to be a good game, a good test.”

The Bengals need to win and have New England lose at home

against Buffalo in order to hurdle the Patriots for the No. 2 seed

in the AFC.

“We want to defend home and make sure we win,” Bengals

cornerback Pacman Jones told the team’s official website. “If it

was my choice, I don’t want Baltimore to make it. We’ve got to make

sure we defend the house and play all four quarters.”

The Ravens made things more difficult on themselves with

Sunday’s 41-7 home loss to the Patriots.

Flacco, who is working through a left knee injury suffered

against Detroit on Dec. 16, went 22 of 38 for 260 yards with two

interceptions. He wore a knee brace, but said the injury had no

impact on his performance. He plans to wear it again this

Sunday.

“I’m going to do it the same way,” Flacco told the team’s

official website. “I really just want to make sure I can be as safe

as I can moving forward so nothing crazy happens. I’m pretty

comfortable with it. It’s not ideal, but it is what it is and it’s

not that big of an issue.”

After the Ravens beat the Bengals 20-17 on Nov. 10 in Baltimore,

the change of venue for this one is significant. The Ravens are 2-5

on the road this season, while the Bengals are 7-0 in Cincinnati.

The Bengals have averaged 43.5 points over their last four at home,

including Sunday’s 42-14 division-clinching win over Minnesota.

Andy Dalton threw for four touchdowns and 366 yards against the

Vikings, connecting with wide receiver A.J. Green on two of the

scores. Green had seven catches for 97 yards, and both are in

position to set single-season franchise yardage records this

week.

Dalton needs 117 yards to pass Carson Palmer’s 2007 mark of

4,131. With 76 receiving yards, Green will break Chad Johnson’s

record of 1,440 set in the same season.

“The goals are good, but we’re fighting for a bigger picture,”

Green said. “When I’m done with this game, maybe it will (mean

something), but right now I’m trying to continue to get

better.”

Dalton, who has 31 touchdown passes, could also establish a

single-season record if he throws at least two Sunday. Palmer had

32 in 2005.

“It shows what we’ve been able to accomplish this year. I think

that only happens if we’ve been winning games and doing some good

things,” Dalton said. “Personally, it’s cool to be close to those

records, but like you said, wins are what ultimately matters.”

The Ravens’ offense hasn’t been nearly as effective, scoring one

TD over the last eight quarters. However, coach John Harbaugh’s

team has always responded after lopsided losses. Since 2008,

they’re 4-0 under him in games following defeats of 20 points or

more.

“I think that’s part of who we are,” Harbaugh said. “If you’ve

been watching us all year, you would know that. You would

understand that about us. It’s a one-game season as far as we’re

concerned.”

Baltimore is up against a Bengals defense that is ranked sixth

in the NFL against both the run and the pass despite losing key

players to season-ending injuries. Cincinnati has been without

defensive tackle Geno Atkins (torn ACL) for the last six games and

cornerback Leon Hall (torn Achilles) for the previous eight.

Baltimore ended last year’s regular season with a 23-17 loss to

the Bengals – the Ravens’ fourth straight defeat in Cincinnati.