It wasn't long ago that the Bengals front office was doing everything to get fans in the stands for a critical game that would decide their playoff fate.
Now Paul Brown Stadium is suddenly taking on the persona of its nickname, “The Jungle.”
The Bengals are undefeated at home this year – a perfect 7-0 – and look to finish the job this Sunday against the Ravens. The game is sold out.
“When you come to The Jungle, don't expect to win,” defensive tackle Domata Peko said after last Sunday’s home win over Minnesota.
The Bengals have scored at least 40 points in their last three home games.
On the season, the offense has scored 26 touchdowns at home compared to 18 on the road. Quarterback Andy Dalton has tossed 18 touchdowns to five picks at home versus 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on the road.
But the defense’s improvement at home may be the biggest difference.
Cincinnati’s defense has feasted on big plays. It has 12 interceptions, eight forced fumbles and three touchdowns at home compared to five interceptions, five forced fumbles and no touchdowns away.
Linebacker Vincent Rey returned an interception 25 yards for a score last week against Minnesota, and that was just one of four turnovers caused.
The Bengals defense does a much better job of third-down defense at home too. Heading into last week, Cincinnati allowed opponents to convert on third down just 25 percent of the time at home and 41.3 percent on the road.
After Sunday’s victory, Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry said he’s been trying to warn his friends on opposing teams about how difficult a place Paul Brown Stadium is to play.
"Look, I tell everybody it's hard to win in 'The Jungle,'" Gilberry said. "It's hard to win because we're like a pack of lions. If you watch the Discovery Channel long enough, you know how lions hunt.”
This week, the Bengals have downplayed the significance of finishing the season undefeated at home. Running back Giovanni Bernard said the Bengals aren’t thinking about the record. Head Coach Marvin Lewis simply said it would be tremendous for Cincinnati fans.
The Ravens struggled to win on the road for much of the year, but went into rocking Ford Field on Monday Night Football in Detroit and edged the Lions two weeks ago. It was their second road win of the season (Week 5 in Miami).
Head Coach John Harbaugh included the Bengals’ strength at home as one of the many challenges when facing them.
“Look at them,” he said. “They’re the division champs, they’re 7-0 at home, they’ve got very good players, they’ve got very good coaches. What they’ve done this year speaks for itself, so we’ve got our hands full.”