Created on Saturday, 28 December 2013 Written by JOE KAY, AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI (AP) — Joe Flacco and Ray Rice played only two series before heading to the Ravens' sideline. Andy Dalton and Bengals starters went until halftime before calling it a day.
Baltimore's last visit had all the indifference of a preseason game. The Ravens and Bengals finished the 2012 regular season at Paul Brown Stadium secure in their playoff spots: the Ravens as AFC North champions, the wild-card Bengals as the No. 6 seed.
It's a lot different this Sunday as the rivals finish the regular season in Cincinnati for the third year in a row. The defending Super Bowl champion Ravens (8-7) are making a push for the final wild-card spot. The Bengals (10-5) have clinched the division but could move up to a No. 2 seed.
No sitting down for this one.
"It's not like guys are going to be coming out (of the game) and all that stuff," Dalton said. "So I think it will be helpful for us."
The Ravens will make the playoffs for the sixth season in a row if they win and either San Diego or Miami loses. Should the Ravens lose to the Bengals, they can still get into the postseason if Miami, San Diego and Pittsburgh all lose.
The Bengals will move up to the No. 2 seed — and a first-round bye — if they win and the Patriots lose to the Bills later Sunday. They can drop to the No. 4 seed if they lose to the Ravens and the Colts beat the Jaguars.
Five things to watch on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:
SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS FLOP: The Ravens are trying to avoid becoming the 15th Super Bowl champ that failed to make the playoffs the following season. They would become the sixth such title team in the last 12 years. The other championship fades: New England (failed to reach the 2002 playoffs), Tampa Bay (2003), Pittsburgh (2006), Pittsburgh (2009) and the Giants (2012).
PERFECT AT PAUL BROWN: The Bengals are trying to go 8-0 at home for only the second time in their history. They did it in 1988 at Riverfront Stadium, where they also won two playoff games and advanced to their second Super Bowl before losing to San Francisco again. They're a much better team at home, scoring more than 40 points in each of their last four games. Only two other teams have put together such home scoring streaks: the 1952 Lions and 2000 Rams.
DALTON'S SURGE: Nobody has shouldered more pressure this season than the third-year quarterback, who played poorly in playoff losses at Houston each of the last two seasons. The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since the 1990 season, tied for the seventh-longest stretch of futility in NFL history. Dalton can set franchise records for touchdown passes and yards passing Sunday, giving him some momentum heading into the playoffs.
"Now we just have to make sure we continue to hit our best stride this late in the season and try to get our playoff misery over with," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said.
RUNNING ON EMPTY: Ravens running back Ray Rice has rushed for only 645 yards after getting 1,000 in each of the last four years. It's not entirely his fault that Baltimore ranks 28th in rushing, but the Ravens have sputtered because of their inability to run. Forced to throw, Flacco has tossed a career-high 19 interceptions. The Bengals will try to make him throw it a lot.
"It's never good to throw interceptions and put your team in a bad position," Flacco said. "If I dwell on that, then I'm not going to give ourselves a good chance to win in this game right here."
With 3 yards Sunday, Rice will pass Jamal Lewis (9,166) for the most yards from scrimmage in team history.
KICKING IT: With one more field goal, Baltimore's Justin Tucker will break Matt Stover's single-season franchise record of 35 in a season. Tucker made 33 straight field goals before misfiring from 37 yards last Sunday in a loss to New England. All three of his misses this season have come at home.
AP Sports Writer David Ginsburg in Owings Mills, Md., contributed to this report.