Battle For Playoff Momentum
This week the 10-5 Baltimore Ravens travel to Cincinnati to face the 9-6 Bengals. These two teams played in week one and Baltimore won a blow out 44-13.
1. Playoff Scenarios
Both the Ravens and Bengals have already clinched playoff berths. The Ravens have clinched the AFC North and the Bengals will be a wild card team. While the Bengals are locked in as the 6th seed, the Ravens seeding is still up for grabs. Currently, they are the 4th seed which will see them play the Indianapolis Colts next week. For the Ravens to improve their playoff position, they need the New England Patriots to lose to the Miami Dolphins which seems unlikely. Along with the Patriots losing, the Ravens will need to beat the Bengals. If these scenario plays out, the Ravens will become the 3rd seed and play the Bengals for the third time this season next week. Since it is unlikely the Ravens improve their seed and the Bengals can’t improve their seed, this game becomes a battle for momentum heading into the playoffs. The Bengals have won 6 of their last 7 and their only loss was on a field game as time expired. The Ravens have lost 3 of their last 4 and but their win was utter domination of the defending Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants. Based on their currents streaks, the Ravens seem to need this game more than the Bengals, especially when you factor in the possibility of becoming the 3rd seed.
2. Containing A.J. Green
Originally, I named this stopping A.J. Green, but then I realized it is impossible to stop Green, you have to contain him. Earlier in the year, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said Green might be the best wide receiver in the NFL. Green is currently in the top 10 for receptions, targets, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, receiving yards per game, and first downs on pass plays. In the week one matchup, Green had 5 catches for 70 yards on 11 targets. In order to contain Green, Ravens CB Cary Williams will need to be on top of his game. Williams has been “consistently inconsistent” this season, allowing many big plays but making many pass breakups and interceptions as well. The 6’1″ Williams has the best size in the secondary to matchup with the 6’4″ Green. Jimmy Smith is 6’2″ but he is still recovering from his sports hernia injury and hasn’t looked the same since returning. Expect the Bengals to try and go deep to Green multiple times to try and take advantage of the Ravens injured secondary. This means S Ed Reed will need to come ready to play this week.
3. Who Plays?
Despite each team not having much to play for, they will both play to win. This is because both teams want momentum heading into the playoffs and, it is a divisional game. With the way the AFC North is, no players would want to miss a divisional matchup. Even though both teams said they will play to win, that doesn’t mean a few players won’t play, especially for the Ravens. If I were the Ravens, I would hold out the key players who are questionable, DE Haloti Ngata, G Marshal Yanda, and WR Anquan Boldin. Also, the Ravens the disadvantage of the Patriots playing at 4 pm. If both games were played at the same time, the Ravens would be able to see the score and take out key players if the Patriots started to pull away. On the Bengals side, head coach Marvin Lewis said “I don’t really have any beat-up guys. So, the only thing that is at stake is you go out and play to win the game every time we go.” In fact, the Bengals only have 6 plays on the injury report, three are probable, one is out, and the other two are questionable. Expect both teams to do what they said, and play to win.
4. G Marshal Yanda vs. DT Geno Atkins
Here is a perfect example of an AFC North matchup. While I did say Yanda was questionable, he is expected to play, just like last week. Yanda has been the best lineman for the Ravens this year, allowing only 3 hits and 8 hurries on 516 pass blocking plays. He is also one of two guards to allow 0 sacks so far this season. In the run game, he has opened up holes all season long. This week he will meet his match in Geno Atkins. Atkins has 12.5 sacks this year which ranks 5th in the NFL and leads all 4-3 DTs in sacks. He isn’t just a pass rusher either, he has been influential in stopping the run game for the Bengals this year. In week one, Atkins got the best of the Ravens, recording 2 sacks. If the Ravens want to be successful on offense this week, they will need to neutralize Atkins.