The Baltimore Ravens will be fighting for their playoff lives Sunday when they play host to the Cincinnati Bengals.
A victory sends the Ravens to the postseason for the first time since 2014, although they still could advance even with a loss as long as either Buffalo (at Miami) or Tennessee (vs. Jacksonville) also lose.
Baltimore (9-5) has won five of six, with the lone loss being a 39-38 thriller at Pittsburgh in which the Steelers rallied to score 10 points in the final 3:29.
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The Ravens offense, which ranked 31st in the league midway through the season, has made steady improvement to spark the team’s second-half surge.
The run of five wins in six games began when running back Danny Woodhead came off Injured Reserve. Woodhead suffered a hamstring injury in the season-opening 20-0 win at Cincinnati.
In the eight games the Ravens were without Woodhead, they averaged 288.9 yards per game.
In the last five they are averaging 355.2 as Woodhead’s skills in the passing game have added a new dynamic to a backfield that includes thumping downhill runner Alex Collins (895 yards, 4.7 per carry) and another dual threat in Javorius Allen (804 scrimmage yards).
Quarterback Joe Flacco has yet to throw for 300 yards this season, and he’s topped 250 just four times, three of which have come in the last four games.
His top target is 37-year-old tight end Ben Watson (54 receptions, 461 yards, four touchdowns), while Allen is third in receptions with 46.
The top threat on the perimeter is speedster Mike Wallace with 46 receptions for 708 yards.
But Baltimore doesn’t need its offense to be explosive to win games. The defense ranks fourth in the league in points allowed and ninth in yards allowed. And most important of all, the Ravens rank first in turnovers forced (33), interceptions (22) and turnover margin (plus-17), and they are tied for third in fumble recoveries (11).
During their current run of five wins in six games, the Ravens have 15 takeaways and only two giveaways.
Safety Eric Weddle’s six interceptions are one shy of the NFL lead, while five other Ravens have at least two.
A big reason all the success in the back end is the pressure Baltimore gets up front, led by another old timer in 35-year-old Terrell Suggs, who leads the team with 11 sacks and four forced fumbles.
Linebacker C.J. Mosley, who recently was voted to his third Pro Bowl in his fourth season in the league, has emerged as the Ravens’ top overall defender with a team-high 91 tackles to go along with a sack, two interceptions, seven passes defended, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
Baltimore has won 10 of its last 12 games at home, including a 19-14 victory against the Bengals in 2016 – one of only two wins they have against their AFC North rivals in the last eight meetings.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was Ravens defensive coordinator from 1996-2001 and earned a Super Bowl ring with the 2000 World Champions. … Ravens head coach John Harbaugh played defensive back at Miami University and coached at the University of Cincinnati (’89-96). … Ravens wide receiver Chris Moore played at the University of Cincinnati. … Bengals cornerback Tony McRae was with the Ravens earlier this season. … Bengals running back Cedric Peerman (Reserve/Injured) entered the NFL in 2009 as a sixth-round draft choice of the Ravens, but was waived in final preseason cuts. … Ravens linebacker Bam Bradley (Reserve/Injured) is from Trotwood (Trotwood-Madison High School). … Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons entered NFL coaching with the Ravens in 1998. … Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees coached at Miami University (’83-86). … Bengals defensive line coach Jacob Burney was on the Ravens staff from 1996-98. … Bengals secondary coach Kevin Coyle was defensive coordinator at the University of Maryland from 1994-96. … Ravens special teams coordinator/associate head coach Jerry Rosburg coached at the University of Cincinnati from 1992-95. … Bengals strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton was assistant S/C coach for the Ravens from 1999-2001. … Bengals assistant strength and conditioning coach Jeff Friday was on the Ravens staff from 1999-2007. … Ravens assistant special teams coach Chris Hewitt played at the University of Cincinnati from 1993-96. … Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther coached at Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) from 1994-95. … Ravens inside linebackers coach Don Martindale is from Dayton and coached at the University of Cincinnati (’96-98). … Ravens offensive assistant/quarterbacks coach Craig Ver Steeg coached at the University of Cincinnati from 1990-93.
AFC North Outlook
Cleveland (0-15) at Pittsburgh (12-3) on Sunday: The Steelers still have a chance to earn the No. 1 seed with a win and a Patriots loss against the Jets, while the Browns are trying to avoid the indignity of becoming the second team in NFL history to go 0-16.
Bengals at Ravens, 4:25 p.m., WHIO-TV Ch. 7, Ch. 12, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7