Between the Ravens and the playoffs were 1/4 and 12.
They had lost the previous two seasons, but the rally in the second half put them on the cusp as the final hours passed on the last day of 2017. All they had to do was stop Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals again.
Tears and catatonic postures in the dressing room after the Ravens’ game told the story of what happened in this climactic play. Terrell Suggs paused for a long moment, pausing for an image of foster Tyler Boyd’s Bengals eluding three purple-clad defenders on a 49-yard run into the end zone. Suggs called it the worst regular season defeat of his career, “a bad dream.”
Whatever happens, when the Ravens play the Bengals the day after Christmas, it will not have the ending of that New Year’s game that happened four years ago. Even if the Ravens lose – and they are losers – they still have two more chances to get a place in the AFC playoffs. But for now, this trip to Cincinnati looks like the day the decision on AFC North will be made. Will it be the Crows, which were considered the favorites of most projection systems just a few weeks ago? Or the upstart Bengals, who won 41-17 when the teams met in Baltimore two months ago?
Football Outsiders founder Aaron Schatz was surprised when he made calculations that showed the Ravens would have an 80% chance of making the playoffs if they beat the Bengals and 24% if they didn’t. For Bengals it will be 75% with a win, 28% with a loss.
“Wow, the Bengals-Ravens game is SUPER important.” Schatz tweeted…
Schatz’s analytical perspective echoes the words of the Ravens coaches and players, who seem to realize that their backs are finally hitting the wall after three consecutive four-point losses.
“This game will go a long way in determining who wins the division,” coach John Harbaugh said in his opening press conference on Monday.
“I would say there will be a playoff game every week from now on,” said veteran defender Kevin Zeitler, who began his career with the Bengals.
A similar view was from Cincinnati, where Bengals have stumbled several times this season when they seemed ready to take off. One of those misses against the humble New York Jets came a week after they fired on the Ravens.
“It’s all at stake in this game,” defenseman Joe Burrow told Cincinnati reporters as he prepares for a rematch with the Ravens. “That’s why you play this game, big games in December against great players and great teams.”
“That would be great. It will be another sign that we are growing as a franchise, ”added defender Mike Hilton. “That we are here to stay for the next X years. That would be a big statement for everyone in AFC North and for everyone in the league. ”
The Bengals’ own website called the game their biggest game in Zach Taylor’s three years as head coach.
By any objective measure, Bengals catch the enemy of their unit at the right moment. Not only did the Ravens lose three in a row, jeopardizing their playoff hopes. Not only are they dealing with the wreckage left over from star players’ injuries at the end of the season and another COVID-19 outbreak. They will be without franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson, who limped off the field with a sprained ankle in the team’s second-quarter loss at week 14 to the Cleveland Browns, and his stunt double, Tyler Huntley, who was relegated to the reserve / COVID-19 list Saturday.
The Ravens took a 24-point magnifier from Cincinnati with Jackson is a defender and with relatively healthy secondary and with a complete collection of edging strips. When they trained on Wednesday, 11 members of their 53-member roster were on or on the COVID-19 reserve / roster.
Not a perfect equation for the most important game of the year. And they will face an adversary who has benefited from unusually strong health. Only one Bengali player, starting quarterback Chidobe Awuzi, has appeared on the COVID-19 reserve / roster as of Wednesday, and in the starting tackle, Riley Raiff is the most significant Cincinnati player in the injured reserve.
But the Ravens have yet to meet the challenge before obstacles arise in an unfortunate 2021. They leave a game in which they nearly rallied with 14 points to defeat NFC’s best seed, the Green Bay Packers. Even Harbo’s much-talked-about call for a two-point attempt at realization turned into a rallying point for the players who applauded their coach’s courage to “win now.”
They vowed to fight no matter who is healthy enough to fight.
“It brings us together as a team,” said receiver Marquis Brown. “We are overwhelmed by adversity after adversity, and in some cases we find ways to participate in games, we find ways to win in games. And just knowing that we will never be idle, no matter who we have, is a great sign for our team. ”
Ravens Defense Coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, who has felt the brunt of the latest outbreak of COVID-19, acknowledged the “alarming” impact of so many hits.
“I think it affects the mentality of the players who cannot participate in the game because of a positive test result; it affects them because they want to be close to their teammates when playing games like this, ”he said. “But guys who are going to be there in this field? They will have the mentality we need to play this game. Everyone knows the standards when they go to this building. ”
It wasn’t just Football Outsiders who predicted how much more difficult this fight would be if the Ravens lost to the Bengals. According to analyst website FiveThirtyEight, with a win, their chances of a playoff will skyrocket to 83% and their chances of a division title to 73%. In case of a loss, these chances will be 33% and 10%, respectively. The site rated the importance of the game at 100 points on a 100-point scale.
Both teams will face tough matches next week: The Ravens at home against the Los Angeles Rams and the Bengals at home against the Kansas City Chiefs. Both will end in divisions: The Ravens at home against the Steelers, the Bengals away against the Cleveland Browns.
So that doesn’t mean that this rematch will settle all things for AFC North, but the loser will end up in territory that really must win.
Is it time for the wounded Crows to “die or die”?
“Come on, I feel like every game in the NFL matters, not just this game,” Huntley said. “I feel like this is a big game, but we have to treat it like a normal game.”
“Anyone can label it any way they want,” Harbo said. “In fact, it’s not my mission to stick labels on it and give specific phrases.”
He did admit that “a lot is at stake.”
CROWS @ BENGAL
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Line: Bengals at 7