As the 2015 NFL regular season winds down, teams are getting ready for the playoffs. This is the time of year when bottom dwellers start to play like Super Bowl champions and juggernauts. When the Bengals face the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, it won’t be a typical battle. The Ravens are trying to play spoiler. The object will be to upset Cincinnati and damage their playoff seeding. They’ll be trying to beat the bully of the AFC North.
The Bengals will have to be focused when they take the field against Baltimore. In Week 16, the Pittsburgh Steelers were caught snoozing and wound up taking an “L” in the process. Baltimore handed the Steelers a 20-17 drubbing that surprised the most of the NFL universe. The win completed a season sweep by the Ravens. If the Bengals are to avoid the same fate, they can’t take the Ravens lightly.
Going back a few years, the big AFC North rivalry was between the Steelers and the Ravens. In recent years, the Ravens have had the Steelers’ number. Baltimore has won five of the last six meetings between the two. Lately, the Bengals have become a playoff perennial and are getting the attention of both the Steelers and Ravens.
Baltimore will be trying to end a four-game losing streak to the AFC North champs. The most recent heartbreak for the Ravens was a 28-24 comeback victory by the Bengals in Week 3. When the Bengals and Ravens hook up, it’s always a down-to-the-wire battle.
The Bengals are now considered the team to beat in the division. Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith gave a surprising opinion of the Bengals, per the Baltimore Ravens website.
“Is the rivalry switching? I don’t know, I don’t know. I kind of hate the Bengals. They’re the bully right now. We’ve got to go fight back and win this game.”
The Bengals seem to be the new bully on the AFC North block.
The Bengals can clinch a first-round bye with a win over the Purple Pain and a loss or tie by the Broncos. Cincinnati can also wrap up the No. 2 seed with a loss by the Broncos and a win by the Chiefs. The motivation is there, for Baltimore to get the revenge they’re looking for.
“We’re tired of taking L’s to these guys, especially in these very close games,” Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan complained. “We’re just trying to finally turn that corner and get it done.”
The Bengals will see all the Ravens have to give, in the showdown at Paul Brown Stadium. The Baltimore upset of the Steelers was surprising, due to the amount of injuries the Ravens have endured. Ryan Mallett took over at quarterback and played extremely well. According to the numbers from ESPN, he had one of the better games of his career. The Baltimore offense may be the right fit for him. That may not be the right fit for the Bengals.
Cincinnati is looking for an elusive twelfth win. That hasn’t been accomplished since the Super Bowl teams of ’88 and ’81. The Bengals can get that victory and also give Marvin Lewis his best year as head coach.
The game isn’t a cakewalk. Though Baltimore is 5-10, they’re 4-4 in the last eight games. Lewis understands the importance of the matchup. But it has to be evident on the field.
“We know we’re playing a football team that over the last eight games is 4-4,” Lewis explained. “They didn’t get off to the start they wanted, but they’ve had a number of injuries. They’ve played with different quarterbacks, but they keep finding a way to win football games and that’s what we know going into this game. It’s a division game.”
It’s a game the Purple and Black isn’t taking lightly. It’s a game that will have the new bully of the division fighting until the bell rings.
[Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images]