Last Week the Bengals played the part of the spoiler and knocked the heavily favored Chargers out of the playoffs. Even though Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco didn't play, the passing game looked better than it has all season thanks in part to Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell who combined for 211 yards and two touchdowns. It was a nice Christmas present from the Bengals to all the fans who suffered through another losing season.
This Week, depending on whether or not the Browns beat the Steelers and if the Jets beat the Bills, the Bengals have a chance to play spoiler again -- not to knock the Ravens out of the playoffs but they could deny Baltimore a chance to be the AFC Conference champions, giving them a first round home game. Of course, if the Steelers win, it doesn't matter but anything's possible in the NFL.
Let's see how the Ravens stack up against the Bengals compared to how the Chargers did.
Joe Flacco VS Philip Rivers:
Both quarterbacks have proven that they know how to win. They are both in the top-10 in passing yards and touchdowns for the season. However, even though the Ravens have the better all-around team, it doesn't mean that they have the better quarterback.
Winner: Philip Rivers
If we gave Flacco a couple more years to progress as an NFL quarterback, considering how well he's done so far in career, he could easily become the better quarterback. For right now, though, most would consider Rivers better, especially at the end of the season when the Chargers seem to catch on fire.
What the bengals need to do:
The Bengals need to do exactly what they did in their first meeting with the Ravens this season -- hold Flacco to 154 yards and one touchdown and intercept four passes. Unfortunately, they'll have to do it without a healthy secondary. Where the Bengals have improved since their last meeting is in their pass rushing ability. Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson combined for the Bengals only sack against the Ravens when they played in the second week of the season. Carlos Dunlap didn't play in that game. Dunlap has been one of the bright spots on the Bengals defense, sacking the quarterback seven times in the last five games. If the Bengals can blanket the receivers long enough for Dunlap to work his magic, it could be a long day for Flacco.
Ravens Running Game VS Chargers Running Game:
The Ravens are ranked at No. 13 in the NFL in rushing yards and the Chargers are ranked at No. 17. However, the Chargers have five more rushing touchdowns this season than the Ravens do.
Winner: Ravens Running Game
The combination of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain has been deadly, especially since Rice has taken over as the feature back. Rice has the ability to slip in and out of traffic without being seen because of his Oompa Loompa size.
What the Bengals need to do:
Once again, the Bengals need to do what they did in their first meeting against Rice and crew. They held all three running backs to 100 yards on 21 carries and kept them out of the end zone throughout the entire game. If they can limit Rice the way they did in week two and make sure that there aren't any big running plays, the Bengals could easily pull off another upset in their final week of the season.
Ravens Receivers VS Chargers Receivers:
Last week the Chargers were without wide receiver Malcom Floyd and future hall of fame tight end Antonio Gates. Because of this.....
Winner: Ravens Receivers
The acquisition of Anquan Boldin has been huge for the Ravens and picking up ex-Bengal T.J. Houshmandzadeh has helped Boldin stay out of double coverage on every passing down. Of course, we obviously can't forget about Derrick Mason, burner Donte' Stallworth and tight end Todd Heap either. If the Chargers receiving corps was healthy when they faced the Bengals, it may have been a different but they weren't so the Ravens take this one.
What the Bengals need to do:
Playing well against the Ravens revitalized passing attack will all start on the defensive line. If Dunlap, Atkins and the rest of the Bengals front seven can make sure that Flacco never gets comfortable in the pocket, the Bengals have a much better chance at being able to contain Boldin, Mason and Houshmandzadeh. If they let Flacco sit in the pocket and wait for a receiver to get open, one will get open and Flacco is good enough to find him and get the ball to him.
Ravens Defense VS Chargers Defense:
Winner: Ravens Defense
The Ravens have had one of the top defenses in the NFL for years thanks in part to guys like Lewis, Reed and Terrell Suggs. Even though the Chargers have one of the top ranked defenses this season in the NFL, let's not forget that the Ravens play in the AFC North, one of the toughest divisions to win in the NFL, and not the lowly AFC West. At least in my eyes, the Ravens defense is always in the top couple defenses in the NFL.
What the Bengals need to do:
The Bengals need to do what they did against the Chargers -- stick to the run and allow a young group of wide receivers to prove to the city of Cincinnati that they belong on the field. The offensive line also needs to make sure that they keep Palmer upright and give him a clean pocket. If the Bengals offense plays the way it did last week, there's no question that they can, and will, win their final game of the season.
Usually I don't do this but when it comes to the Bengals playing the Ravens, there seems to be an x-factor. I don't know if I necessarily believe in a team just having another team's number but the Bengals definitely always seem to come out on top of the Ravens when they play them. The Ravens haven't beaten the Bengals since 2008 and Palmer has had some great games against the Ravens top-ranked defense. If there is an x-factor in this game, the fact that the Bengals just seem to always give the Ravens a run for their money is it.