NFL Preview - Baltimore (10-5) at Cincinnati (9-6)|
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - A pair of playoff-bound AFC North teams close the regular
season in Cincinnati on Sunday when the Bengals host the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens clinched a second-consecutive North Division title last Sunday and
now have a chance to improve their seeding in the postseason. The Bengals,
meanwhile, earned a wild card berth for the second-straight year and are
locked in as the sixth and final seed in the conference.
Baltimore, which is the only NFL team to reach the playoffs in each of the
last five seasons, can still climb to third in the AFC if the Ravens beat the
Bengals this week and New England loses to the visiting Dolphins, something
that would ensure a Ravens-Bengals rematch in Baltimore during the first
"The one thing we know for sure is that we're going to Cincinnati to win,"
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That's our No. 1 goal. That's what we do.
We're also going to give consideration to going into the playoffs as healthy
as we can be."
Baltimore snapped an ugly late-season, three-game slide in Week 16 when Joe
Flacco threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns as the Ravens clinched the AFC
North crown with a 33-14 dismantling of the New York Giants at M&T Bank
Flacco completed 25-of-36 passes with no interceptions and added a rushing
touchdown for the Ravens. Ray Rice finished with 107 yards on 24 carries and
51 yards and a score on six receptions, while Anquan Boldin led all receivers
with 93 yards on seven catches before leaving the game in the third quarter
with a shoulder injury.
"It's about execution. It's a simple word, but it's a very tough task to do,"
Rice said about the offense, which racked up 533 yards of total offense.
"Today, everybody pitched in and everybody did their job."
Cincinnati, meanwhile, accomplished a feat it hadn't achieved in three decades
when Josh Brown booted a 43-yard field goal with four seconds remaining to
give the Bengals a 13-10 victory over the Steelers at Heinz Field.
The kick vaulted the Bengals into the playoffs while eliminating their other
AFC North rival in the process. Cincinnati, an AFC wild card entry a year ago,
last reached the playoffs in consecutive seasons in 1981 and 1982.
Brown's clutch kick came one play after Andy Dalton and A.J. Green connected
on a 21-yard pass to the Pittsburgh 25, and two after Bengals safety Reggie
Nelson intercepted Ben Roethlisberger near midfield with 14 seconds remaining
"Huge team win," said Dalton. "It's exactly what we needed to have happen, we
needed everybody to play well. Our defense played great, giving us good field
position and different things. Obviously (on) offense there's areas we can
improve, but it feels good to get the win."
Dalton finished with 278 yards on 24-of-41 passing and was also intercepted
twice, with Green amassing 116 yards on 10 catches to help the resurgent
Bengals to their sixth triumph in their last seven outings.
The Ravens have won four straight over Cincinnati, including a 44-13 rout in
the season opener for both clubs back on Sept. 10. Flacco passed for 299 yards
and two TDs in that one, with Rice adding a pair of rushing TDs and Ed Reed
a 34-yard interception return for a score.
"We didn't kick the season off very good, and now we get to finish it at
home," Bengals coach Marvin 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."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Baltimore found its offense against Big Blue last week, rushing for a season-
high 224 yards, which opened up plenty of passing lanes for the previously
The Bengals defense has been very stout against the run recently, however,
thanks in large part to Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who can create
havoc with his ability to penetrate. Cincinnati has allowed just 58.0 rushing
yards per game over the last month and an NFL-low 263.3 total yards per game
over the past six contests, a stark contrast from a group which was miserable
in Baltimore on opening day.
"That's something good to have, especially in the playoffs. You want to have
that good defense," defensive tackle Domata Peko told the Bengals' website.
"We've just got to keep it rolling."
Offensively, Cincinnati has to figure out a way to get Dalton going against
the Ravens. The second-year signal-caller has completed just 54.0 percent of
his passes with one touchdown and four interceptions in three career games
against a Baltimore defense which has struggled this season but is coming on
lately and allowed a season-low 186 yards against the Giants.
"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."
Cincinnati is locked it at No. 6 and, win or lose, the far more likely
scenario for the Ravens is that they will finish with the fourth seed and host
Indianapolis next weekend.
"We kind of understand what has to happen all across the board as far as where
that could shake out on Sunday," 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."
Both coaches have talked a good game but expect each to play this one close to
the vest. So, take the home team.
"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."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bengals 21, Ravens 20
12/27 12:28:11 ET