Win and you’re in… the opponent just happens to have a Week 17 jinx on its side.
In 2017 the Ravens needed to beat the Bengals in the regular-season finale to get to the playoffs. Baltimore (10-5) finds itself in a similar spot now: A win over Cincinnati (4-10-1) on Sunday guarantees postseason qualification for a team that appears to have the pieces in place to make a deep run.
The Ravens were heavily favored at home against the Bengals that final game in 2017— and they proceeded to stink up the joint. Joe Flacco was the Ravens QB that day, and though he put up a respectable 203 yards passing with 2 TD and 1 INT, he struggled early and the offense stalled out on several key drives. Then the Ravens were ousted from the playoff hunt in stunning fashion when Andy Dalton threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd with 44 seconds left to give the Cincinnati Bengals a 31-27 victory.
Needing a win to advance to the postseason, Baltimore (9-7) rallied from a 14-point deficit to take its first lead with 8:48 left. But Dalton put together a magnificent 90-yard drive in the closing minutes before hitting Boyd over the middle on a fourth-and-12 play.
The circumstances of the game this Sunday feature different quarterbacks, but the jinx aspect is eerily similar.
Several Ravens players and coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday it was important to remain even-keeled and focused, even if images of that ’17 letdown occasionally creep into mind.
“I don’t think we really mention it, you know, that game at all,” safety Chuck Clark said. “But I do personally remember that game. You know, it’s the same situation that’s ahead of us right now. Fighting for a spot in the playoffs, same team. Not the same field, but it’s something that’s definitely in the back of your mind. But we keep moving and we keep dealing with the task that’s at hand.”
Harbaugh on Sunday praised the Bengals and said he’s been impressed with the team all year, even in the weeks since rookie quarterback Joe Burrow suffered a season-ending knee injury. Backup Brandon Allen threw for 371 yards against the Texans, and Cincinnati rode a strong running game and opportunistic defense to recent wins.
Depending on how Week 17 plays out, the Ravens could land anywhere from the No. 5 to No. 7 seed if they make the playoffs. Pundits have labeled them as the team no one wants to face, but that would certainly make them an underdog in the wild-card round.
At least this year’s Ravens are a lot faster and deeper in personnel than the 2017 group, which could be the difference in overcoming the Bengals’ jinx.
“After an extended dry spell, the Ravens’ pass rush is heating up,” Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz wrote. “Defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale is sending a variety of players streaming toward quarterbacks, making it possible for eight different players to have at least one sack over the past two games.
“That pressure has helped Baltimore weather injuries to cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith, and it might frighten Cincinnati’s offensive coaches. When they blew out the Bengals, 27-3, in October, the Ravens saw a record five different members of their secondary record a sack.”
And it helps that QB Lamar Jackson seems to be getting hot again.
“Being honest, I just want to win Sunday and come out of the game healthy,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t really matter about any records being broken. I just want to win to get to the playoffs.”
The not-so-good news is that the Ravens otherwise have a lengthy injury report heading into their win-and-get-in Week 17 game in Cincinnati.
Nine Ravens did not practice Wednesday:
- OT Orlando Brown Jr. (not injury related)
- DE Calais Campbell (calf/NIR)
- CB Marlon Humphrey (knee/shoulder)
- RB Mark Ingram II (illness)
- P Sam Koch (NIR)
- C Patrick Mekari (back)
- DE Yannick Ngakoue (thigh)
- CB Jimmy Smith (ribs/shoulder)
- WR Willie Snead IV (ankle)
The Bengals may get back leading wide receiver Tyler Boyd, who missed Sunday’s game against the Texans because of a concussion. Boyd was a limited participant Wednesday. Boyd was the receiver who caught the touchdown in 2017 that knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs.
Rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins (hamstring) and linebacker Jordan Evans (hamstring) were also limited in practice Wednesday. Six Bengals missed practice, including four starters: defensive tackle Mike Daniels (NIR), wide receiver A.J. Green (NIR), cornerback William Jackson III (concussion) and cornerback Darius Phillips (NIR).