4:15 PM ET, January 1, 2012
Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
With an unblemished record at home and a lackluster one on the road, it's no surprise the Baltimore Ravens are eager to secure at least one postseason game on their field.
They can do that by winning their first AFC North title since 2006 on Sunday, but the final step to that crown goes through Cincinnati, where the Bengals are seeking their second playoff berth in three years.
Baltimore (11-4) wrapped up its first perfect home record with a 20-14 victory over Cleveland last week but couldn't clinch the division title as Pittsburgh also won. The Ravens hold the tiebreaker in the AFC North by virtue of their sweep of the Steelers and need either a win or a Pittsburgh loss to wrap up the division.
A win and a New England loss would give Baltimore home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The Ravens qualified as a wild-card team in each of their three previous postseason appearances and managed to win four road games, but they also advanced to the conference championship only once.
"Playing at home can help us get closer to the prize," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "That's the real incentive right now. We're in the dance. We'll go where we have to go. But playing at (home) for any game would be a good, good thing."
Getting that home game, though, might not prove easy -- Baltimore is 3-4 on the road this season and has dropped five of six in Cincinnati (9-6). The Bengals enter with a one-game lead over Oakland, Tennessee and the New York Jets for the AFC's final playoff berth.
They gained that advantage with a pair of seven-point wins over NFC West teams, fending off a late rally from Arizona for a 23-16 victory Dec. 24.
Cincinnati, though, hasn't been as fortunate in recent games against AFC teams as it's dropped four of five with two losses to Pittsburgh, one to Houston and one in Baltimore on Nov. 20. Three of those games were decided by seven or fewer points, including the 31-24 defeat to the Ravens.
The Bengals couldn't complete their rally from a 17-point deficit, reaching Baltimore's 7-yard line with 50 seconds left. The Ravens forced three consecutive incompletions and got the benefit of an intentional grounding penalty before Pernell McPhee's sack sealed the win.
They also intercepted rookie Andy Dalton a season-high three times and turned two of those into touchdowns. Dalton, though, still managed to throw for a career-best 373 yards on a defense ranked fourth against the pass (193.9 ypg).
Jerome Simpson, whose touchdown-scoring somersault over a defender helped secure last week's victory, had 152 of those yards on eight receptions, but star rookie A.J. Green sat out with a bruised right knee.
Green became the first Bengals rookie since Cris Collinsworth in 1981 to make the Pro Bowl. The No. 4 overall draft pick in this year's draft has already topped Collinsworth's rookie yardage record with 1,031 and needs five more catches to own another of his marks.
"I'll have time to reflect later," Green told the team's website. "Right now, I'm focused on helping us win Sunday and make the playoffs."
Dalton was selected as an alternate at quarterback, while the Ravens are set to send seven to Hawaii.
Baltimore has not swept its division games relocating from Cleveland in 1996. The Ravens could have pulled off that feat in 2006 if not for a 13-7 loss at Cincinnati.
Baltimore, however, has finished strong lately as it's won the past five season finales.
"We have had a lot of games where we have to go win in order to really put us where we want to be, and it's just another one of those," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "It's going to be against a good team, a division opponent, a team that's fighting for the playoffs themselves. We're going to have go in there and play a really good game to get a win."
The Ravens might need a better performance from Flacco, who has 10 interceptions and four touchdowns over his last five matchups with Cincinnati. He was intercepted a career-worst four times during the most recent game at Paul Brown Stadium, a 15-10 loss Sept. 19, 2010.
Flacco, though, was intercepted only once in last month's victory and finished with 270 yards and two touchdowns. Ray Rice had 104 yards and a pair of TDs on the ground, his best rushing performance in seven games against the Bengals, and five catches for another 43 yards.
Rice and the Ravens are expected to play in front of only the second sellout crowd at Paul Brown this season. The Bengals sold 41,273 tickets for its 65,535-seat stadium last week.
More from ESPN.com
Fox: Trask was a pioneer
Amy Trask's departure from Oakland is a huge loss for the Raiders and the NFL, Ashley Fox writes.
Ravens rookie Brown sidelined after surgery
Ravens rookie linebacker Arthur Brown will be sidelined for at least a month while he recovers from sports hernia surgery.
Joyner: Five breakout fantasy players
KC Joyner highlights five second-year players who could have breakout fantasy seasons, including RB Bernard Pierce.
Ravens-Bengals: 10 observations
After breaking down film of both teams, Scouts Inc. offers 10 things to watch in the Week 17 Ravens-Bengals matchup.
1. The Ravens need to maintain balance offensively: The Ravens are best when they have a good mixture of run and pass on early downs. Cincinnati has been very good defending the run (96 yards per game) but has been inconsistent against the pass. Look for coordinator Cam Cameron to design a game plan involving several offensive threats but still featuring Ray Rice, who should get more than 20 carries.
Recent Blog Posts
|Avg Points Allowed||16.6||20.2|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||BAL|
|Rush Yds Allowed||BAL|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Series tied 11-11|
|Nov 20, 2011||BAL 31, CIN 24|
|Jan 2, 2011||BAL 13, CIN 7|
|Sep 19, 2010||BAL 10, @CIN 15|
|Nov 8, 2009||BAL 7, @CIN 17|
|Oct 11, 2009||BAL 14, CIN 17|
|Nov 30, 2008||BAL 34, @CIN 3|
|Sep 7, 2008||BAL 17, CIN 10|
|Nov 11, 2007||BAL 7, CIN 21|
|Sep 10, 2007||BAL 20, @CIN 27|
|Nov 30, 2006||BAL 7, @CIN 13|
|Nov 5, 2006||BAL 26, CIN 20|
|Nov 27, 2005||BAL 29, @CIN 42|
|Nov 6, 2005||BAL 9, CIN 21|
|Dec 5, 2004||BAL 26, CIN 27|
|Sep 26, 2004||BAL 23, @CIN 9|
|Dec 7, 2003||BAL 31, CIN 13|
|Oct 19, 2003||BAL 26, @CIN 34|
|Dec 1, 2002||BAL 27, @CIN 23|
|Nov 10, 2002||BAL 38, CIN 27|
|Dec 23, 2001||BAL 16, CIN 0|
|Sep 23, 2001||BAL 10, @CIN 21|