The Ravens sure have a lot on the line when they take the field at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio on Sunday afternoon.
In what is basically a three team race for the sixth and final seed in the AFC playoff picture, the Ravens have their work cut out for them.
As many know, I am not one to rely on other teams to do the dirty work to ensure a playoff berth but what’s facing the Ravens is an uphill battle – just the kind the Ravens seem to thrive on. After last week’s debacle against the Patriots I expect them to bounce back with a sense of urgency that has rarely been seen this season.
To earn a trip to the postseason as the second Wild Card entrant, the Ravens must beat the Bengals and have either Miami or San Diego lose or tie (Baltimore can also make the playoffs if Miami, San Diego and Pittsburgh lose.) Got that? My head always seems to spin this time of year when it comes to all the wacky scenarios.
The Ravens are fielding a banged up squad; however, the news that Ray Rice (quadriceps), Elvis Dumervil (ankle), Torrey Smith (hamstring) and Gino Grankowski (knee) all returned to practice today is reassuring and all those players will be needed.
Quarterback Joe Flacco is still dealing with a knee injury and will wear a protective brace for the second straight week. The Ravens offensive line must protect Joe, something they have rarely been able to do this season.
The Bengals own the fifth-overall defense (311.1 ypg), ranking sixth against both the pass (211.3 ypg) and the rush (99.8 ypg).
Cincinnati also boasts the league’s sixth-best scoring defense (19.2 ppg), while its 33.3 percent opponent third-down efficiency mark ranks fifth. The Bengals are forcing opponent three-and-out drives at a 27.3 percent rate, the NFL’s fifth-best figure.
On the flip side of the ball the Ravens defense is going to have to find a way to stop Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati offense. While the defense has been very much “bend but don’t break” for most of this season, it certainly must tighten up and not allow Dalton and company to expose them the way Tom Brady did.
Cincinnati’s offense ranks 10th overall (366.8 ypg), including the 10th-best passing offense (257.2 ypg) and the 21st-ranked rushing attack (109.6 ypg). The Bengals have the league’s seventh-best scoring offense (26.4 ppg) and average 34.4 points per game at home, the league’s second-best mark. Cincinnati’s 74.4 percent red zone touchdown efficiency also ranks second in the league.
Dalton can be rattled; we all remember when the Ravens faced them in November at M&T Bank Stadium, when Dalton was 24/51, 274 yards, two touchdowns (one a hail mary to force O.T.) and three interceptions. The Ravens won that game in overtime, but to win on the road must keep pressure on Dalton, who was sacked five times in the previous meeting, with Elvis Dumervil recording three.
The football gods have had their way with the Ravens this year – sometimes positive and sometimes negative, but always exciting (until last week, anyway).
As unlikely as it will be for the Ravens to make the playoffs for the sixth-consecutive season and seventh time in the last eight years, crazier things have been known to happen.
No matter what happens in Cincy on Sunday, one thing is for sure: the Ravens have made it an interesting year and have kept us on the edge of our collective seat.
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