With the AFC North Division title and a home playoff game already secured, there are two other things the Cincinnati Bengals will be playing for when they face Baltimore today at Paul Brown Stadium.
The first is the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs and a first-round bye, which can only happen if the Bengals win and get help from a Buffalo upset at New England.
That’s the bigger reward at stake, although the other one is hardly a consolation prize.
It’s something that can affect the team’s path through the playoffs, which alone makes it important. But it also would come with a side dish of schadenfreude, which the Bengals would find delicious.
“If we could knock the Ravens out of the playoffs, that would be great,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “Any time you have a chance to beat the Ravens you want to seize that moment.”
The Ravens are one of four teams alive for the final wild-card spot, along with Miami, San Diego and Pittsburgh. And the Bengals aren’t being shy about picking sides.
“We ain’t biting our tongues,” offensive tackle Anthony Collins said. “They’re division rivals, man. You don’t let a division rival get in the playoffs. We’re going to fight and battle until the clock says zero.”
A Baltimore win alone would not clinch a wild-card berth. The Dolphins or Chargers would have to lose or tie as well.
Nor would the Bengals eliminate the Ravens solely by winning. But it would it take a trifecta of upsets — the Dolphins, Chargers and Steelers all would have to lose — for Baltimore to back in as the No. 6 seed, possibly setting up a rematch at PBS next weekend.
“I don’t want Baltimore to make it,” cornerback Adam Jones said. “We’ve got to make sure we defend the house and play all four quarters.”
Defending the house is yet another incentive for the Bengals, who are 7-0 at PBS this year and could tie the franchise record of 8-0 set by the 1988 Super Bowl team.
The Ravens, on the other hand, are trying not to become the 15th Super Bowl champion that failed to make the playoffs the following season, sixth in the last 12 years.
“It’s been a tough year for us,” Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh said. “We were 4-6 at one point. We’ve been in that situation all season and it’s been challenging. I don’t know how to describe it other than it is the situation we find ourselves in this year and we have to make the most of it. We have a lot at stake. We have to go play the best team in our division based on the fact that they’re the champion and it’s in their stadium and they have a lot to play for, too.”
The Ravens began their turnaround with a 20-17 overtime win against the Bengals in Batlimore on Nov. 10, starting a stretch of five wins in six games to climb back into the race. It also was their fifth win in the last six tries against Cincinnati, with the lone loss coming last year in the season finale at PBS when both teams were locked into their playoff slots and rested their starters.
That certainly won’t be the case today.
“We expect a dogfight, man,” Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko said. “Anytime we play anybody in our division, especially the Ravens, they seem to play us really tough. It’s going to be a ground-and-pound type of game. The guys know what we’re fighting for and what’s ahead of us.”
Baltimore Ravens (8-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (10-5), 1 p.m., Ch. 7, 12, 700-AM, 1530-AM, 102.7-FM, 104.7-FM