BENGALS HIT IN THE MOUTH
On Sunday night, the Pittsburgh Steelers treated their smallest home crowd in over a decade to an absolute beat down of the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals. The final score (30-20) doesn’t do justice to how badly the Bengals were beaten, as they were at one point down 24-0, and then trailed 30-7 in the fourth quarter before scoring twice in what was effectively garbage time.
The Bengals came into the game with an opportunity to gain the inside edge at the AFC’s second seed and a first-round bye after the New England Patriots fell to the Miami Dolphins earlier in the day. Had the Bengals defeated the Steelers they would have been tied with the Patriots at 10-3, and they already have the tiebreaker over the Patriots after defeating them earlier this year.
Currently the Bengals lead the Ravens by 1.5 games in the AFC North, but if the Ravens defeat the Detroit Lions tonight, they would be only one game back of the Bengals, and could potentially set up a winner-take-all game in Week 17. The Ravens defeated the Bengals in overtime in Baltimore earlier this year, so by winning out now, the Ravens would be AFC North champs for a third consecutive year.
The Ravens’ Garrett Downing tweeted what we were all thinking after Bengals punter Kevin Huber left the game with a broken jaw on a legal block from Terence Garvin. “The Bengals just got hit in the mouth. Literally.”
If the Ravens win out, they will have definitely earned the division crown, but it is very telling that the Bengals lost to a Steelers team with so little to play for, when they had an opportunity to gain control of a first-round bye. They may not be ready to take the next step.
WILD CARD HOPES TAKE A HIT
As mentioned above, the Miami Dolphins defeated the New England Patriots in a hard-fought 24-20 game in Miami on Sunday, in what was the biggest home game the Dolphins have played in December in a few years.
Recently-signed safety Michael Thomas intercepted Tom Brady in the final minute in the end zone to preserve the win that gave Miami their first over New England in almost four full seasons. With the win, the Dolphins improved to 8-6 and 3-0 in December. They now sit a ½ game ahead of the Ravens for the final wild card berth.
The Dolphins’ remaining two games are against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, both of whom are under .500. Miami will likely be favored in both games, and now has an excellent chance to win out and finish 10-6. If that happens, the Ravens would also need to finish 10-6 to stay ahead of them.
With the AFC North crown in play by winning out as well, it now seems likely that the Ravens will either win the division, or miss the postseason all together, as any loss at this point may be the last straw for their wild card hopes.
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL OFFERS MIXED RESULTS FOR RAVENS
Head Coach John Harbaugh acknowledges that there is something special about playing on Monday Night Football, and that it does carry a lot of significance. Harbaugh added, “Playing on Monday night is something that usually happens maybe once a year if you’re fortunate. And that’s special. The whole country is watching.”
The Ravens are 8-9 in franchise history on Monday nights, but are 4-3 under John Harbaugh, with the most recent Monday night game coming in Week 1 of last season when the Ravens crushed the Cincinnati Bengals 44-13. The Ravens have not yet played on Monday night this year.
Home teams typically have the advantage, but it is even more important on Monday nights, as there is a lot of waiting heading up to the game. Visiting players have to spend an entire day at a hotel before the 8:40 kickoff, and the waiting game can be tough, which is something Harbaugh also said he is aware of.
The Ravens have spent a lot of time playing in prime-time games over the last five years, as they have been consistent contenders under Harbaugh. Their record improves to 14-7 under Harbaugh in prime-time games if Thursday and Sunday night games are added.
With the entire league watching tonight, the Ravens need to make a statement against one of the NFC’s strongest teams.
FLACCO AND THE DOME
Much has been made this week about how playing in a dome Monday night will benefit quarterback Joe Flacco. Flacco has never been one to make a big deal about playing the elements, and his strong arm is one of the best in the league, which often helps him beat tough temperatures.
Flacco still enjoys the opportunity to play indoors however, “I never make a big deal about playing outside, but every time you go into a dome and you start warming up, you realize how awesome it is to be able to throw the ball inside.” Flacco then added, “It won’t have too much of an effect on the outcome of the game.”
Flacco has been statistically impressive in domes throughout his career. In seven career dome games he has amassed 14 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions. His most recent game in a dome came last February against the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.
Flacco limiting his turnovers will be critical on the road against the Lions, who boast one of the league’s most impressive and explosive offences. They also average over 30 points per game at home. Quarterbacks against the Lions have thrived recently, producing a passer rating of 101.3 in the last four games.
The Lions are also tied for third in lowest touchdown percentage allowed per trip to the red zone this season (40%), so getting Flacco comfortable in the dome may help the Ravens punch more drives into the end zone. Settling for field goals will not be enough Monday night.