Coming into last week's Giants/Ravens game, both teams had a chance to solidify themselves as serious playoff contenders. But you wouldn't have known that with the way the Giants played. In an inspired effort, the Ravens took down the dispassionate Giants, 33-14. With this win, the Ravens have clinched their second-consecutive AFC North title and at least one home playoff game. The Ravens put up two impressive scoring drives to open the game, but the Giants answered with one of their own to finish off the first quarter. After a Justin Tucker field goal, the Ravens put the finishing touches on a superb first half when Flacco found Rice up the middle for a 27-yard touchdown on a play-call that we haven't seen often this year. The play is actually one of the offense's base routes, and in the past has been called on for important third-and-fourth-down situations. In the second half, Justin Tucker would put up three more field goals, and the Giants would score once more in the fourth quarter to end the game.
Player of the Game: Ravens QB Joe Flacco-25/36 for 309 passing yards, 2 passing touchdowns, 1 rushing touchdown
Key to the Win: This was a statement win that the Ravens needed badly. After losing three straight games, a chance to beat a team like the Giants was one that was too opportune to give up. The Ravens showed up in all three phases of the game. Justin Tucker was perfect from field goal range, and luckily we didn't see too much of Sam Koch. Flacco was clicking offensively and both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce ran for over 100 yards. The defense kept an explosive Giants offense in check, limiting key receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.
This Sunday, the Ravens will wrap up the regular season in Cincinnati against a 9-6 Bengals team. When the two teams met in Baltimore back in Week 1, the Ravens handed down a 44-13 beat-down. But that game is nearly irrelevant now as now these two teams are in vastly different places. This is an odd game when it comes to playoff implications. The Bengals are locked into the #6 seed, while the Ravens look to be in the #4 spot, barring a Dolphins upset over the Patriots in New England (they would jump to #3). Neither team has too large of an incentive for winning this game. But that doesn't mean they won't be trying to win it. The Bengals have lost four straight to the Ravens, and will be looking to knock that monkey off their backs. They believe that in order to get where they want to go, they need to go through a Ravens team that has owned them in recent years. Also, both teams will be looking to get momentum heading into the playoffs, and can do so with a win. Don't expect to see either team benching too many of their non-injured starters. The Ravens may give a break to some of their more banged-up players, such as Haloti Ngata and Marshal Yanda, so don't expect to see much if any from them this weekend.
On offense, the Bengals are led by a youth movement consisting of second-year QB Andy Dalton and his favorite partner, Pro-Bowl WR A.J. Green, who has established himself as one of the better up-and-coming receivers in the league. Green has over 1,000 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on the season thus far. Though he has had some troubles hanging on to the ball, he is extremely dangerous when he does hang on. Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, in contrast, has fumbled just three times in his five-year career. All three, however, happened this season. Green-Ellis has started in all fifteen games this season, racking up six rushing touchdowns and over 1,000 rushing yards. The Bengals are also helped out offensively by rookie weapon Andrew Hawkins, who caught eight balls back in Week 1, and TE Jermaine Gresham, who has five touchdown catches on the year.
The Bengals are much flashier on defense, however. Ranked ninth in the NFL in total defense, they are third-best in the AFC with 44 sacks. DT Geno Atkins has a team-high 12.5 sacks on the year, coupled with four forced fumbles. Rookie LB Vontaze Burfict, who the Ravens passed on following the draft, has been a huge help to the Bengals on defense. He is second on the team in tackles, just a few behind fellow LB Rey Maualuga, who has become a staple on the Bengals defense. In the secondary, the Bengals have received jolts from veteran CBs Leon Hall and Adam Jones, who have rejuvenated their careers with good seasons in Cincinnati. If the Ravens can hold off the dangerous Bengals pass rush, Joe Flacco should have enough time to find an open receiver against a talented secondary lacking in depth.
Prediction: Whoever wants it more will get it. If the Ravens treat this game like a third pre-season game, they won't win. Both teams want to have something to ride with heading into the playoffs, which start next week for both teams. Expect both teams to come out in full force to try and take this finale. I have the Ravens winning, 23-13.
Key Matchups for Ravens at Bengals
Ravens CB Cary Williams vs. Bengals WR A.J. Green Edge: Green
Analysis: While Cary has had a remarkable year, he will have a tough afternoon going up against the size and physicality of Green.
Ravens LB Dannell Ellerbe vs. Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis Edge: Ellerbe
Analysis: This is one of the matchups the Ravens desperately want to win. Ellerbe has had a great year, and will continue against Green-Ellis.
Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Bengals CB Leon Hall Edge: Smith
Analysis: Smith's vertical game will help him in this matchup against a size-disadvantaged Leon Hall. His leaping ability will give him the win here.
Ravens C Matt Birk vs. Bengals DT Geno Atkins Edge: Atkins
Analysis: Atkins has been dominant off the edge, especially of late. He'll continue his success against a struggling Ravens offensive line.
WR Anquan Boldin-Shoulder-QST
WR Tandon Doss-Ankle-QST
DE Arthur Jones-Thigh-QST
FB Vonta Leach-Ankle-QST
LB Albert McLellan-Shoulder/Thigh-QST
DT Haloti Ngata-Knee-QST
G/T Marshal Yanda-Shoulder/Knee-QST
K Mike Nugent-Calf-OUT
CB Jason Allen-Hamstring-QST
CB Terence Newman-Groin-QST
Ravens Playoff Outlook: The Ravens will be playing at home next week to open up the playoffs. Barring a Dolphins upset of the Patriots, the Ravens will be hosting the Indianapolis Colts. With a Ravens win and a Dolphins win, the Ravens will be hosting, ironically enough, the Bengals.
That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, see you next week and go Ravens!