The 8-7 Baltimore Ravens will take on the 10-5 AFC North Champion Cincinnati Bengals at 1:00 Sunday in the final game of the regular season. The Ravens are fighting for their playoff lives, as even a win does not any longer necessarily guarantee them entrance to the postseason.
The task in front of the Ravens is formidable, even though Baltimore gave the Bengals one of their five losses with a 20-17 OT victory on November 10th in Charm City. Cincinnati is a perfect 7-0 this season at home, and they are fighting for the chance to be a #2 seed in the playoffs – a distinct advantage with the week off.
Since that last meeting, both the Ravens and Bengals have won four of the past five games. Cincinnati dropped an odd 30-20 loss to the Steelers two weeks ago, but the 41-7 shellacking at the hands of the Patriots seems to Ravens fans to be much more recent and raw. These teams at this moment in time appear to be moving in opposite directions, as the AP Pro32 Ranking this week has the Bengals at #6, up two spots from last week. The Ravens have moved two places in the opposite direction – from 11th to 13th.
Here is a quick graphic as to how the teams stack up against each other, and then below it we will state some points as particularly key for the game …
|AP Pro32 ranking #6 … Last week #8||AP Pro32 ranking #13 … Last week #11|
|Offense points: 7th||396||Offense points: 27th||303|
|Offense yards: 7th||5502 / 367 avg.||Offense yards: 26th||4696 / 313 avg.|
|Pass offense: 10th||3858 / 257 avg.||Pass offense: 19th||3415 / 228 avg.|
|Rush offense: 21st||1644 / 110 avg.||Rush offense: 28th||1291 / 85 avg.|
|Defense points: 6th||288||Defense points: 10th||318|
|Defense yards: 5th||4666 / 311 avg.||Defense yards: 9th||4976 / 332 avg.|
|Pass defense: 6th||3169 / 211 avg.||Pass defense: 11th||3400 / 227 avg.|
|Rush defense: 6th||1497 / 100 avg.||Rush defense: 9th||1576 / 105 avg.|
The Baltimore Wire Keys to the Game
The Need for Short-Term Memory Loss
Every so often in the NFL, even a good team will hit a week where all the wheels come off and absolutely nothing works – and even the guy who hits a 61-yard field goal just six days earlier misses what is essentially a chip shot for some who had made 33 in a row. So, was it an off week, or did the proverbial chickens come home to roost in the loft amongst the Ravens?
Short-term memory loss can be good at times like these – even if it is the 17th week of the NFL regular season. Cornerback Jimmy Smith says it is already erased out of the gray matter, “We’ve already forgot about it. That’s the NFL. Things like that happen. We’ve moved on to the Bengals. Our focus is only on winning this game. We can’t really control San Diego or Miami. So, we win our game and everything else falls into place.”
Rising Up to a Big Hairy Audacious Challenge
As stated, the Bengals are unbeaten at home. They have a reason to play to win, not just to rest their starters. They are playing well. They are ranked high in every component of the game. Even though quarterback Andy Dalton was brutalized by Bengals fans after the loss to the Ravens, only Peyton Manning and Drew Brees have thrown more touchdown passes this season. That is rare air. This is a big, big challenge. Most football pundits around the country are going with the Bengals on this one.
The Location of the Brains of Harbaugh and Flacco
It is a fact of life that the Ravens go where Joe takes them. He needs to make good decisions – a trait not seen in great abundance last week. Coach Harbaugh needs to do the same – also a trait not seen in abundance last week (like going for a field goal when trailing by 20 points in the 4th quarter).
Converting on Short Yardage Situations
This is another way of stating that the running game needs to get going… ever hear that said before? Yep, 16th consecutive time this season. The inability to convert a 3rd-and-1 at the Pats’ four yard line late in the 3rd quarter last week was the critical moment when the game was lost. Controlling the line of scrimmage and powering the offense on critical short yardage situations has been a struggle all year. Somehow this has to change for Sunday, especially in the red zone situations, or we will be beginning to write and look forward to next season starting with articles next week. I would be thankful as a first-year football writer to have the Ravens shorten my offseason by playing a few more weeks. Okay?
The State of the Walking Wounded
The list of the banged-up and bruised is pretty long. Yes, it is part of being an NFL player, and Harbaugh has said that everyone who plays is nursing something at this time of year – just deal with it. I understand that, but there are some performance-debilitating issues I fear.
Flacco himself played last week with a knee brace after the incident in Detroit. He clearly was not himself in the first half, though he seemed mobile enough in the second half. Joe claims it is not a problem at all. Hey, I know personally about knee braces; they are not comfortable. And what is Flacco supposed to say?… “Yep, it is a real problem.” No way will he do that – guys being paid 120.6 million don’t say things like that, even if it is true.
Defensive lineman Art Jones looked great in the game this past week, but then he suffered a concussion and is uncertain for this week.
Ray Rice is not 100% from a quadriceps injury from the Lions game. He too has claimed all year that he is fine. I don’t believe it.
Torrey Smith seemed to strain a hamstring against the Patriots. It is “not deemed to be a problem.” Sure, hamstring issues go away in 24 hours – right!
What’s to worry about? No big deal. Everyone will be fine. If you say it enough times, you can convince yourself it is true.
Getting Over My Bad Feeling about this Game
I don’t feel good about this game at all, and that is the best thing the Ravens have going for them! (I felt good going into last week’s 41-7 thumping.)
But honestly, how can a Ravens fan feel good about their chances? They are playing an unbeaten team at that team’s home field in the final game of the season, and EVERY offensive and defensive stat is against the Ravens. I think this is the only time this entire season that these numbers have aligned 100% against the Charm City boys.
Without doubt, the Ravens are good enough to win this game and it might well happen if they play a solid four quarters. I just simply don’t see how they can be favored to win.
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