The Baltimore Ravens are well aware the Cincinnati Bengals need to win today's game in order to make the playoffs. Sure, the Bengals have a chance to still get into the 6th and final Wild Card slot if they lose, but so much has to fall their way to get in, so for all intents, they need to "play to win." The problem is, the Ravens just don't care.
Baltimore doesn't care if this is a desperation game for the Bengals. They don't care that the team was able to almost "artificially" sell out the stadium via an embarrassing two-for-one special. They couldn't care less that the city of Cincinnati has not cheered for their football season past the first week in January since 2009 in that one-and-done opportunity.
The only thing the Baltimore Ravens care about right now is winning this game and the AFC North division title, getting at least the 2nd overall seed in the playoffs and a well-earned break with a bye in the first round and then a home game for the first time in the past four consecutive years of making the post season.
Despite being in the playoffs win or lose, Baltimore will just be satisfied with just getting in as they have the previous three post seasons. Going on the road is a tall task, one that the Ravens have not been able to take to the Promised Land in those three playoff seasons since this streak began in 2008. Knowing full well of their Achilles Heel in 2011, the thought of having to win as visitors in order to make the Big Game doesn't sit well with the guys in purple.
No, just getting in will not make the New Years for the 53 guys and coaches that make up the Ravens. They want to win, get that road-monkey off of their backs and enjoy the rest of the weekend and all next week as the other teams either go home for the off season or have to get ready to suit up next week while the Ravens await their next opponent at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium.
The Ravens are the better team today and will show their veteran leadership and ability to produce under pressure. Cincinnati is new to this Pressure" thing and putting a rookie QB in this situation usually doesn't bode well, unless of course, your nickname is "Joe Cool." Turnovers will more than likely decide this game and the Ravens have been the standard in creating them in the playoffs which has translated into more road victories over the past three years than any other NFL team.
This is absolutely a playoff game and the Ravens are better suited, both physically and mentally better prepared for this stage than the Bengals. Despite their recent injuries, the players have either began getting healthy or the "next man up" mantra rings true. Injuries will not be an excuse in this game, as the Ravens depth has been a pleasant surprise all season long.
On the other hand, Cincinnati has not been playing as well as thy were earlier in the season and the ways they've won lately has been less than impressive. They have not beaten a winning opponent in the AFC North and have only beaten one team with a winning record all season. Conversely, the Ravens have not lost to a team with a winning record all year and are on the verge of going 6-0 in the division to go along with their perfect 8-0 home record.
This isn't a home game but the Ravens know one is in their future with a victory today. Other than a home win, road beatdown is a great feeling for this team, who love to be hated away from Baltimore. Sending the Bengals home to ponder "what-if" would be their pleasure and you should see a happy Ravens team and a despondent Bengals one when this game is over.
The Ravens will employ a run-first offense and then mix in Joe Flacco passes. Expect him to finally find Lee Evans who will do some damage today to complement Torrey Smith's solid production. The tight ends will be open as will Ray Rice underneath. Defensively, the Ravens pass pressure will force Andy Dalton to make the mistakes that he has largely avoided against the lesser teams but did not in Baltimore the first time these two teams met and should continue today.
Do not despair Bengals fans. This has been a surprisingly good, perhaps even great, season after such minimal expectations. The off season will be filled with even greater expectations as they know they have the foundation in place to build upon in advance of the 2012 season. However, their current season ends today.