OWINGS MILLS — With vivid orange and black colors and tiger stripes staring across from them at the line of scrimmage, the Baltimore Ravens will be confronted with a reminder of the consequences of one of their most costly setbacks this season.
Today’s regular-season finale at M&T Bank Stadium provides a rematch for the Ravens (11-4) against the Cincinnati Bengals (4-11), a team that has haunted them for years.
Although the division foes have gone in completely opposite directions since the Bengals’ 15-10 victory over Baltimore in September, that’s the key game that will probably block the Ravens from winning the AFC North title.
“It was disappointing at the time, but it’s real disappointing now knowing the late-season implications that it has,” Ravens outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “That said, we can’t worry about it. We just have to go out and win this week.”
Even though the Ravens have the same record as the Pittsburgh Steelers, they trail in the tiebreaker for division record because of the loss to the Bengals.
Unless the heavily-favored Steelers somehow lose to the Cleveland Browns today, the Ravens have no shot at claiming supremacy in the division for the first time under coach John Harbaugh.
The Ravens have already clinched a wild-card playoff berth and currently hold the fifth seed in the AFC.
Will the Ravens offer the Browns any advice this week?
“They don’t need our help,” Harbaugh said. “They know Pittsburgh inside and out. Pittsburgh knows them inside and out – just like all the teams in our division. They wouldn’t need any help from us.”
The Ravens have lost their past three games to the Bengals, falling short to Cincinnati in six of the past eight meetings.
And quarterback Joe Flacco hasn’t played well against the Bengals.
He threw four interceptions against the Bengals earlier this season.
He has a career 61.6 passer rating against them. It’s his lowest against a team he’s played against more than once.
Flacco has thrown 24 touchdowns and only four interceptions since that loss to the Bengals.
“They’ve played us pretty well, and we haven’t beaten them since my first year,” Flacco said. “They play really tough defense. They cover guys well. They stop the run well.”
Despite the Bengals not having wide receivers Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco due to injuries and enduring a 10-game losing streak this season, they remain a team that presents a challenge to the Ravens.
Baltimore just doesn’t seem to win many individual matchups against Cincinnati, including outside linebacker Terrell Suggs against left offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth and wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason against cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall.
“It seems like they’re always very dangerous when they play us,” Harbaugh said. “You watch them on tape, it does not look like a team that’s not a winning team. On tape, they look like a winning football team. They’ve got first-round picks all over the field, a very physical offensive line, one of the premier quarterbacks in the league and a defensive that’s just tenacious.”
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is 10-5 all-time against his old team, where he was a defensive coordinator for the Ravens’ Super Bowl squad a decade ago.
With his contract expiring, this could be the final game the former Finksburg resident coaches for the Bengals. He declined to sign a contract extension after leading the Bengals to a postseason berth last season.
The Bengals have lost five consecutive road games, losing their past three by 16 points each.
“This is going to be an important football game to win for us, to finish with three straight victories,” Lewis said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. “To close out the season that way would be big, against another team that we know is going on to the playoffs and a really, really good football team.”
The Bengals would like nothing more than to send the Ravens skidding into the playoffs following a loss.
They thoroughly enjoyed eliminating the San Diego Chargers from playoff contention with a 34-20 win at Paul Brown Stadium last week.
One season removed from winning the AFC North, playing spoiler is all the Bengals have at stake other than making a case for job security for Lewis and themselves.
“Oh, absolutely. It’s something we looked forward to last week and enjoyed doing, and we have somewhat of a chance to do that this week, just changing what could happen in the AFC playoff picture. That’s all you’ve got right now, and unfortunately, that’s where we are.”
Even if the Ravens don’t win the AFC North, they’d like to head into the playoffs on a four-game winning streak as they begin preparations for a first-round playoff game against either the Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs or the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Harbaugh is the lone coach in franchise history to lead his team to three consecutive playoff berths.
He joined Dennis Green, Barry Switzer and Bill Cowher as one of four coaches to do in his first three seasons as head coach.
Under Harbaugh’s direction, the Ravens have never gone 12-4 with 11-5 and 9-7 marks over his first two seasons.
“This is going to be a big challenge,” Harbaugh said. “We do have a lot, potentially, on the line. Even if we didn’t, we want to win. We want to get to 12.”