Reality: Since 2008, the Ravens are 4-1 in Week 17.
Perception: The only loss was last year in Cincinnati, when Coach Harbaugh pulled the starters because they were not needed. Overall, the Ravens have won 10 of their past 13 season finales. To me though, this stat is meaningless. Nothing before this season matters. Every year is a different team and this year is no exception. The stats that mean more are ones that show how this year’s team is trending.
Reality: The Cincinnati Bengals rank higher than the Ravens in just about every category.
Perception: The Ravens are 2-5 on the road this year. The Bengals are 7-0 at home this season. The Ravens have scored 15 points less than they have given up to their opponents. The Bengals have outscored their opponents by 108 points. Cincinnati’s offense is ranked 10th while Baltimore’s is 29th. Cincinnati’s defense is ranked 5th compared to 9th for Baltimore.
All of those stats say this should be a Bengals win, and it very well could be. But the Ravens defeated the Bengals earlier this season and lead the all-time series between the two teams 20-15. I see this game being a lot closer than the statistics say it will be.
Reality: Andy Dalton has thrown 18 touchdown passes at home this season. Joe Flacco has thrown 18 touchdowns the entire season.
Perception: Dalton has had a very nice season. And with the weapons that Cincinnati has given him, there is no reason that he shouldn’t have had a good year. Flacco hasn’t had a great season, but when it’s come down to crunch time, he’s made really good throws to pull his team to victory. Sunday, he’ll need to make plays with his arms (and legs) and not force throws into coverage which results in turnovers.
Reality: The 1997 Ravens rushed for just 1,589 yards that season… a franchise low. The Ravens will need to rush for at least 309 yards Sunday to beat that mark.
Perception: The Ravens currently have 1,281 yards rushing this season… not only is that terrible, but for a team that has been so good rushing the ball for so many years, it’s really bad. There is no way this team rushes for 300 yards against the Bengals Sunday, which means that the 2013 Ravens will be the worst rushing team in franchise history.
Think back for a minute to before the season started. Last year, Ray Rice was really good, and with the emergence of Bernard Pierce, just about everyone thought this team could be really good on the ground. So much so that people were calling for Pierce to take away more carries from Rice. With the two-headed monster in the backfield, we all could agree that this team’s strength would be on the ground. That has not happened. Pierce and Rice have not been great, and the O-line has been terrible.
Reality: The Ravens are six point underdogs on the road in Cincinnati.
Perception: You get three points for being a home team in the NFL, so basically the oddsmakers think the Bengals win this game by a field goal. Two weeks ago, all the so called “experts” picked the Lions to beat the Ravens, and the Ravens won. Last week, everyone picked the Ravens to beat the Patriots, and the Patriots won. This week, most analysts are picking the Bengals to win… that’s good news for the Ravens. They thrive in the underdog role. With people picking against them, it’s like backing a dog into a corner. They come out attacking. I see the Ravens attempting to do that Sunday.
Reality: If the Ravens win and either Miami or San Diego lose, the Ravens will be the #6 seed in the AFC playoffs.
Perception: More than likely, the Broncos will be the #1 seed, the Patriots #2. If the Colts win and the Bengals lose Sunday, then the Colts would be the #3 seed and the Bengals #4. The Chiefs are the #5 seed. In this most likely scenario, the Ravens would then travel to Indianapolis for a 1st round playoff matchup with the Colts, while the Chiefs travel to Cincinnati.
Last season, the Ravens defeated the Colts at home, in Ray Lewis’ final game in Baltimore. Of all the possible matchups for the Ravens, this is the one that I think is the best fit for Baltimore. I can see our defense coming up big in a 1st round beatdown of the Colts.
But first we have to make the playoffs… so Ravens fans, we need a big Baltimore victory Sunday. We also need to cheer on Rex Ryan and the Jets, as well as the 2nd stringers of the Chiefs that the Chargers will be playing.