Eisenberg: Bengals Have Ravens Right Where They Want Them

OLB Tyus Bowser

Deep into a strange and unpredictable season in the AFC North, the Bengals have the Ravens right where they want them.

After years of mostly looking up to others, the Bengals are primed to deliver a withering blow to the playoff hopes of a longtime nemesis.

The Ravens and Bengals are both 8-6 heading into their pivotal contest Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. But although they have the same record, their situations feel quite different.

The Bengals will be playing at home as they go for a sweep of the season series, having routed Baltimore in October at M&T Bank Stadium. They're coming off a massive road win. Their injury list isn't as long as War and Peace.

The Ravens, on the other hand, have lost three straight games and five of their last eight while dealing with a run of major injuries and subtractions that never seems to cease.

Yes, the Ravens also are just a couple of failed two-point conversions away from coming into Sunday on something of a roll, holding the top seed in the AFC playoff race. I said it was a strange season.

Nonetheless, they're on a slide that has taken them from the top of the playoff race to out of the postseason entirely if it began now. They're vulnerable to the effects of another defeat.

I'm sure fans in Cincinnati are excited. They should be. Their young team has taken them on a roller coaster ride in 2021, but after all the ups and downs, the Bengals are in great position to exact some revenge for years of beatdowns.

But if I'm them, it's worrisome that the Ravens embrace being in such situations.



Picked to lose.

It might be the scenario Head Coach John Harbaugh's Ravens love the most.

OK, that's a stretch. They surely would rather swap places with the Chiefs, who have overcome early-season issues and won seven straight games to rise to the top of the AFC playoff picture.

But for whatever reason, the Ravens seldom roll through a season so free and easy (2019 was the exception). The hard road is their fate. They've taken it so many times over the years that the route is baked into who they are.

The harder the situation, the more they like it.

It's probably even more true in a season in which they've been so thrown off by injuries and other adversity they're pretty much running on resilience, resourcefulness and grit at this point.

Those qualities alone might not be enough to fuel a trip to the NFL playoffs. We're about to find out.

But you can be sure the Ravens will bring those qualities to Cincinnati, and they can make Harbaugh's team difficult to deal with, as the Packers can attest.

The Ravens seemingly were cooked several times Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, especially when they trailed by 14 points in the fourth quarter. Talk about a point where you're doubted and challenged.

But the Ravens kept believing and scrapping and ended up having a chance to take the lead in the final minute.

In the end, it was another game they could have won or lost, the latest of many. They could easily have 12 wins this season. They could just as easily have 12 defeats.

But the bottom line is they've won enough to give themselves plenty to play for in late December.

"Everything is still in front of us," Harbaugh said Monday.

It's true. No team in either their division race or the wild-card race has more wins than the Ravens. They still control their fate, especially with Sunday's game and their season finale at home against the Steelers.

The Bengals want to dash those hopes, and considering the thrashing they gave the Ravens in October, it's fair to wonder: If the Ravens couldn't cover Ja'Marr Chase with most of their original secondary, how are they going to cover him Sunday with Plan D or whatever version of the secondary they're on?

Ah, but that's the point, the trap, right? It's dangerous to start thinking you've got the Ravens right where you want them. Because they really wouldn't want it any other way.

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