Ravens (10-6) at Bengals (11-4), Sunday, Jan. 8 at Paycor Stadium (Field Turf), 1 p.m. ET, TV: CBS, WKRC-TV Ch. 12, (Kevin Harlan, Trent Green, Melanie Collins), Radio: 700 WLW, WEBN-FM (102.7 FM), ESPN1530, (Dan Hoard, Dave Lapham)
CINCINNATI — This week has been unlike any other in Bengals history.
Six days after their game with the Bills was suspended and eventually canceled, the Bengals will attempt to regain their focus and get in playoff mode with a regular season finale against their division rival Baltimore Ravens.
The news that Damar Hamlin is improving with each passing day and the breathing tube has been removed have helped most Bengals coaches and players move on with focusing on a game that will have far greater implications that initially thought when they clinched the AFC North with the cancellation of Monday’s game.
The Bengals stand 11-4 and clinched the division title since the Ravens are 10-6 and could not catch the Bengals in the standings. But because the NFL competition committee decided that a coin flip – and not win percentage as defined in their by-laws – would decide home field between the two teams in a possible playoff meeting if the Bengals lose Sunday, the Bengals suddenly have renewed urgency to win their season finale. Head coach Zac Taylor and Bengals Executive Vice President Katie Blackburn voiced their opposition on Friday.
Of course, if the Bengals win Sunday, that coin flip issue is moot. And if the Chiefs and Bengals lose and the Bills win this weekend, the whole neutral field scenario for the AFC championship is out the window. The Bills would clinch the No. 1 seed and would host any AFC Championship if they advance. The NFL attempted to avoid a scenario in the AFC championship round where a one-game difference in games played would have no potential impact in the standings.
The NFL did not feel they had enough time to apply this standard to the wild card and divisional rounds to acquire a neutral site so their win-percentage rules do apply. This, along with the coin flip scenario, is why the Bengals objected so strongly.
But there is a game to be played. For the second straight year, the Bengals will be playing a Ravens team in Cincinnati in the final weeks of the season that will be without star quarterback Lamar Jackson and a team that is struggling to score points.
"We just gotta stack up the wins" Ja'Marr Chase says Bengals can't control what league decides on playoff schedule pic.twitter.com/cNYEslrgds
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) January 6, 2023
But, unlike Dec. 26, 2021, this Ravens team is just about at full strength on defense. Calais Campbell (knee) and Marcus Peters (calf) should be ready to go. Patrick Queen, Roquan Smith and Tyus Bowser are the foundation of another great corps of Ravens linebackers. And there’s Jason Pierre-Paul off the edge.
The Bengals are entering relatively healthy, with Sam Hubbard expected to return after missing the game in New England and the shortened contest against Buffalo with a strained left calf. Eli Apple also practiced Friday after a neck issue cropped up Thursday at practice. He is listed as questionable but is expected to play.
Winners of their last seven games, the Bengals have clinched a second straight division title for the first time in their 55-year history. The Bengals have won a franchise-best 12 regular season games three times previously, most recently in 2015, also the last time they won eight straight, also a franchise best, another mark they can match with a win Sunday over Baltimore.
“I’ve always sat up here with the confidence that, even when things were tough at the beginning of the year, that we were going to continue to rise to the expectations,” said head coach Zac Taylor. “I’ve seen that from the team all the way through.”
The Ravens team won the first matchup — 19-17 in Week 5 at M&T Bank Stadium — which was largely fueled by Baltimore’s 155 rushing yards. A two-yard sneak from Burrow had put the Bengals ahead 17-16 with just under two minutes left, but the Ravens responded with a 50-yard drive to set up a game-winning 43-yard field goal by Justin Tucker as time expired.
This week’s game features some notable matchups of highly ranked units against each another. Cincinnati’s offense, which comes in averaging 26.1 points per game (No. 6 in the NFL) faces a Baltimore defense that is yielding just 18.0 points (No. 3). Meanwhile, the Ravens’ rushing attack is churning out 163.1 yards on the ground per contest (No. 2), and will go against a Bengals run defense that allows 106.4 yards (No. 5).
When Cincinnati took a 23-22 series lead in Week 2 of the 2018 season, it was the first time the Bengals had led the series since after the first of two meetings of 1998, when they were up 3-2. That lead didn’t last long, however, as the Ravens have won five of the last seven meetings and currently own a three- game advantage.
The series is relatively even, with Baltimore currently leading, 28-25. The Bengals, however, have won two of the last three matchups.
The Bengals appear to be in the right place after processing the shock of Monday night. It’s been a short and unprecedented week of preparation for the Bengals but they have lots and lots of leaders in the locker room, which should help immensely. They also have a renewed urgency to win this game and give themselves a chance at the No. 2 seed and also avoid a coin flip scenario with the Ravens if they were to play each other in the wild card round. The Bengals appeared to be on a roll in the early moments of their game against the Bills. They will try to get back on that roll Sunday and have the weapons healthy enough to do so. Since their Nov. 13 bye, the Ravens have scored 20 points just once, in a 28-27 loss at Jacksonville. This offense should not present many issues to the Bengals defense. Get on top early and make the Ravens play from behind and the Bengals should be in great shape for their fourth 12-4 finish in team history.
Bengals 30, Ravens 16