Last Saturday, the Ravens escaped a scare from the Browns to pull out a 20-14 home win. With this win, the Ravens finished undefeated at home for the first time in franchise history. They were rolling on all cylinders in the first half, giving themselves a 17-point cushion that ended up being the difference between a win or a loss. The Ravens first score came early in the first, when Flacco hit Ed Dickson in the back of the end zone on third and goal. Then, free agent signee Shayne Graham was put to the test, setting up and hitting a 48-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10. Midway through the second quarter, Flacco floated the football up to Ray Rice, who then ran 20 yards into the end zone to make it 17-0. After another Graham field goal, things began to slow down for the Ravens. A punt-return touchdown paired with a Flacco interception thrust the Browns back into the game. The Browns then made it a one-possession game when Seneca Wallace found Evan Moore for a touchdown. After a Ravens three-and-out, the Browns got the ball back with a chance to take the lead. On fourth down with four minutes left, Wallace threw to Peyton Hillis for no gain, and the Ravens were given an opportunity to seal the win. On a fourth and two at the two minute warning, Flacco drew lineman Phil Taylor offsides, and a series of kneel downs finished the game.
Player of the Game: Ravens RB Ray Rice-83 rushing yards, 3 catches, 48 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown
What Worried Me: After what was at one point a 20-0 lead, this win was way too close for comfort. It leaves a lot to question about this team's stamina. Also, Joe Flacco looked dazed in the second half, making ill-advised passes and paying the price for them. He didn't get much help though. Ed Dickson had three drops, all which would have helped the team move the ball down the field and put up more points in the second half.
Next Sunday, the Ravens face a crucial game in Cincinnati against the 9-6 Bengals. When the teams met in November, the Ravens won 31-24. With a win, the Ravens lock up a first-round bye, and depending on the outcome of the Patriots/Bills game, homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. With a loss, the Ravens risk falling to a wild-card spot and having to play games on the road. This game is about as important as they get, and with the Ravens' struggles on the road this year, it won't be an easy one. The Bengals may have even more to play for than the Ravens. With a loss, they might not be able to even make the playoffs. However, they are in a win-and-you're-in situation, which could give them quite the emotional advantage. Because of all these implications, expect a playoff-like atmosphere when the Ravens hit the field on Sunday. Bengals rookie QB Andy Dalton showed the poise of a veteran in November, and certainly poses a serious threat to the Ravens' hopes of a first-round bye. Rookie WR A.J. Green, who missed the previous matchup between the teams, will be active this week, and is a vertical threat whom the Ravens' secondary will find tough to defend. On defense, Carlos Dunlap and Domata Peko lead the Bengals pass rush. They will need to put pressure on Joe Flacco if they want a chance to stop the Ravens offensive attack. With a combination of Flacco's passing and Rice's ground game, the Ravens can pound their way onto the scoreboard. With some defensive help, the Ravens will be able to pull out what is going to be a close game. Keep in mind that new Ravens K Shayne Graham, who is expected to start in place of the still injured Billy Cundiff, spent 7 seasons with the Bengals. No one knows that stadium and that weather like Graham, which could become important if a late-game field goal is needed. With the Ravens' implications as grand as they are, I have them winning 24-20.
Key to the Game: Andy Dalton has incredible poise for his age, and does a great job of getting the ball out quickly and accurately. The only way to stop that is pressure. If the Ravens pass rush can get to Dalton quickly, the Bengals offense will be halted, and their point-scoring abilities stopped. Also, because of the Ravens road struggled thus far, they will need to start strong and fire on all cylinders if they want to get the sold-out Cincinnati crowd out of the game fast and put a lead on the board.
Key Matchups for Ravens at Bengals
Ravens CB Lardarius Webb vs. Bengals WR A.J. Green Edge: Push
Analysis: Webb has not allowed a touchdown yet this year, while Green poses a dangerous threat down the field.
Ravens LB Terrell Suggs vs. Bengals QB Andy Dalton Edge: Suggs
Analysis: Suggs' ability to get to Dalton will dictate the Bengals' offensive success.
Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Bengals LB Rey Maualuga Edge: Rice
Analysis: Rice will need to move the ball in order for the Ravens to maintain offensive balance throughout the game, and Maualuga doesn't have the speed to catch up to him.
Ravens C Matt Birk vs. Bengals NT Domata Peko Edge: Peko
Analysis: Peko's athleticism will help him get past the older Birk, and to Joe Flacco.
WR Anquan Boldin-Knee-DBT
LB Dannell Ellerbe-Head-DBT
G Marshal Yanda-Chest-DBT
K Billy Cundiff-Calf-QST
DE Cory Redding-Ankle-QST
CB Cary Williams-Head-QST
S Taylor Mays-Hamstring-DBT
LB Dontay Moch-Illness-DBT
DE Carlos Dunlap-Hamstring-DBT
AFC North Standings
Team W L
Ravens 11 4
Steelers 11 4
Bengals 9 6
Browns 4 11
AFC North Outlook: Here are the Week 17 AFC playoff scenarios:
Ravens win/Patriots win: Ravens clinch first-round bye, Patriots clinch homefield advantage
Ravens win/Patriots lose: Ravens clinch first-round bye and homefield advantage, Patriots have #2 seed
Ravens lose/Steelers win: Steelers clinch first-round bye, Ravens fall to wild card spot
That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report. Happy New Year, see you next week and Go Ravens!