Various thoughts on various things, all in 50 words or less:
Some will shrug, but I wouldn't take for granted that a win Sunday would give the Ravens their third straight trip to the playoffs, which would be the second-longest streak in their history, trailing only a run of five straight appearances between 2008 and 2012. There are worse alternatives.
A win also would give them 13 total playoff appearances in the 25 seasons since they moved to Baltimore. Only two AFC teams, the Patriots and Colts, have had more playoff appearances since 2000. Let's add that to the list of things not to be taken for granted.
You can't chalk this up to anything other than coincidence, but here's a weird trend that'll jangle your nerves: When the Bengals enter their home finale with a losing record, they've won the game 12 straight times and 17 of the past 18 dating to 1993. They're 4-10-1 this year.
If you think football isn't complicated, here's the list of explanations for the surge in the Ravens' ground game: 1) O-line continuity/consistency; 2) Lamar Jackson reclaiming his MVP form; 3) going with two backs; 4) Greg Roman's wrinkles such as the "heavy" formation, more misdirection, etc. And there's more, actually.
Speaking of Jackson, since he returned from the Reserve/COVID-19 list, he has a better completion percentage, better passer rating, and has averaged more rushing yards per game than he did during his MVP season. Oh, and the Ravens are 4-0. I'm trying to figure out the moral of that story.
Tight end Eric Tomlinson's growing role (23 snaps in each of the past two games) is a testament to his perseverance as much as his blocking ability. The fifth-year player spent time with the Eagles, Texans, Jets, Giants, Patriots, Raiders and Giants again before joining the Ravens in November.
Speaking of persevering, the Bengals deserve kudos for enduring the loss of rookie quarterback Joe Burrow earlier in the season and finishing strong with wins in their past two games. But their defense allowed 488 yards in Sunday's win over the Texans. That's an opportunity for the Ravens.
The Ravens registered six sacks and 15 quarterback hits when they battered the Bengals in October – a performance they'd surely love to reprise. But the Bengals are doing a better job of protecting their quarterback lately. They didn't allow a sack on 38 dropbacks last Sunday in Houston.
Even though injuries have limited him, it's hard to argue with the Ravens' decision to keep Jimmy Smith for another season. As this year indicates, you have to stockpile quality cornerbacks – more than you think you'll need. Smith is versatile, his price was right and he's still playing well.
Interesting: If they make it, the Ravens will enter the playoffs as a wild card for the first time in three years, but oddsmakers still like them better than two division winners. According to betonline.ag, they're the third choice to win the AFC, after the Chiefs and Bills.