Ravens-Bengals Preview

The Associated Press

With an unblemished record at home and a lackluster one on the road, it's no surprise the Baltimore Ravens are eager to secure at least one postseason game on their field.

They can do that by winning their first AFC North title since 2006 on Sunday, but the final step to that crown goes through Cincinnati, where the Bengals are seeking their second playoff berth in three years.

Baltimore (11-4) wrapped up its first perfect home record with a 20-14 victory over Cleveland last week but couldn't clinch the division title as Pittsburgh also won. The Ravens hold the tiebreaker in the AFC North by virtue of their sweep of the Steelers and need either a win or a Pittsburgh loss to wrap up the division.

A win and a New England loss would give Baltimore home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The Ravens qualified as a wild-card team in each of their three previous postseason appearances and managed to win four road games, but they also advanced to the conference championship only once.

"Playing at home can help us get closer to the prize," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "That's the real incentive right now. We're in the dance. We'll go where we have to go. But playing at (home) for any game would be a good, good thing."

Getting that home game, though, might not prove easy - Baltimore is 3-4 on the road this season and has dropped five of six in Cincinnati (9-6). The Bengals enter with a one-game lead over Oakland, Tennessee and the New York Jets for the AFC's final playoff berth.

They gained that advantage with a pair of seven-point wins over NFC West teams, fending off a late rally from Arizona for a 23-16 victory Dec. 24.

Cincinnati, though, hasn't been as fortunate in recent games against AFC teams as it's dropped four of five with two losses to Pittsburgh, one to Houston and one in Baltimore on Nov. 20. Three of those games were decided by seven or fewer points, including the 31-24 defeat to the Ravens.

The Bengals couldn't complete their rally from a 17-point deficit, reaching Baltimore's 7-yard line with 50 seconds left. The Ravens forced three consecutive incompletions and got the benefit of an intentional grounding penalty before Pernell McPhee's sack sealed the win.

They also intercepted rookie Andy Dalton a season-high three times and turned two of those into touchdowns. Dalton, though, still managed to throw for a career-best 373 yards on a defense ranked fourth against the pass (193.9 ypg).

Jerome Simpson, whose touchdown-scoring somersault over a defender helped secure last week's victory, had 152 of those yards on eight receptions, but star rookie A.J. Green sat out with a bruised right knee.

Green became the first Bengals rookie since Cris Collinsworth in 1981 to make the Pro Bowl. The No. 4 overall draft pick in this year's draft has already topped Collinsworth's rookie yardage record with 1,031 and needs five more catches to own another of his marks.

"I'll have time to reflect later," Green told the team's website. "Right now, I'm focused on helping us win Sunday and make the playoffs."

Dalton was selected as an alternate at quarterback, while the Ravens are set to send seven to Hawaii.

Baltimore has not swept its division games relocating from Cleveland in 1996. The Ravens could have pulled off that feat in 2006 if not for a 13-7 loss at Cincinnati.

Baltimore, however, has finished strong lately as it's won the past five season finales.

"We have had a lot of games where we have to go win in order to really put us where we want to be, and it's just another one of those," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "It's going to be against a good team, a division opponent, a team that's fighting for the playoffs themselves. We're going to have go in there and play a really good game to get a win."

The Ravens might need a better performance from Flacco, who has 10 interceptions and four touchdowns over his last five matchups with Cincinnati. He was intercepted a career-worst four times during the most recent game at Paul Brown Stadium, a 15-10 loss Sept. 19, 2010.

Flacco, though, was intercepted only once in last month's victory and finished with 270 yards and two touchdowns. Ray Rice had 104 yards and a pair of TDs on the ground, his best rushing performance in seven games against the Bengals, and five catches for another 43 yards.

Rice and the Ravens are expected to play in front of only the second sellout crowd at Paul Brown this season. The Bengals sold 41,273 tickets for its 65,535-seat stadium last week.

What to Read Next