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Eisenberg: Why Ravens Will Take Care of Business This Time

Defensive Tackle
Defensive Tackle

Almost everyone has reasons for wanting 2020 to end. The Ravens are no different.

They've dealt with major injuries to key players, a COVID-19 outbreak, tough home losses and a three-game losing streak ending their hopes for a third straight division title.

Although they've righted themselves in December, it's been quite the journey for a team that began the season as a top-tier Super Bowl contender.

The good news is they still control their playoff fate, needing only to beat the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sunday to earn a ticket to the postseason. They could qualify in other ways, too, even if they lose, but the opportunity to handle it themselves is much appreciated, as it didn't come easily or without moments of despair. (Thanks, Raiders.)

It would be so 2020 if the Ravens didn't take advantage of finally being in the position they want, controlling their fate.

It's happened before. Just three years ago, the Ravens were in the exact same position, needing only to beat the Bengals, who were 6-9 at the time, in their season finale to make the playoffs. After coming back from a 14-point second half deficit, things looked promising with under a minute remaining. The Ravens led by three points and the Bengals faced fourth-and-12 near midfield. But Andy Dalton tossed a touchdown pass and the Ravens sat out the playoffs.

The Bengals would love to play spoiler again, and no doubt, they're capable. Although they're only 4-10-1 this season, they've won two straight games and solidly thumped the Pittsburgh Steelers in Cincinnati two weeks ago.

"They're playing their best football of the season, really, by far," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday.

Nonetheless, I'd be extremely surprised if the Ravens didn't take care of their business Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

Although the Bengals are feisty, the Ravens are favored by 11 points and have a long, long history of winning such games. Since they moved to Baltimore in 1996, they're 41-0 in regular season games in which they're double-digit favorites – quite a stat, huh?

Exceptions are always possible, as the Tennessee Titans were double-digit underdogs when they surprised the Ravens in the playoffs last season. (It was a ridiculous spread in hindsight, the Titans being much better than that. But whatever.)

But one of Harbaugh's bedrock philosophies is next week's game is just as important as last week's, regardless of the circumstances; he stresses that the Ravens need to maintain an even keel through all ups and downs. It's a mindset that helps prevent killer upsets.

Harbaugh was immediately on the case after Sunday's win over the New York Giants. Asked if he was pleased his team now controlled its playoff fate, he said he was but "now we have to get the job done." You'll hear that from the players all week.

Aside from their general approach, the Ravens also are on a roll heading into this game, having won four straight contests by a total of 62 points. Their offense has emerged from a relative funk and is crushing defenses with the league's top rushing game. Lamar Jackson has reclaimed the form that made him the league MVP in 2019.

The dynamic Jackson is especially effective at helping the Ravens avoid losses to lesser teams.

When Joe Flacco was the Ravens' quarterback, they could lose such games if he had an off day passing the ball, which happened now and then. But if Jackson struggles throwing, he can run and make enough plays to win a game. And if a defense contains him on the ground, as the Jacksonville Jaguars did a few weeks ago, he can throw. Bottom line, it's hard for lesser teams to stop both.

With their playoff aspirations gone, the Bengals surely see Sunday's game as their postseason. But it's hard to envision them stopping the Ravens' powerful ground game, which has dominated several stout rushing defenses recently with multiple extra blockers helping open holes for Jackson, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards.

It took longer than they wanted, but the Ravens have found their stride in a challenging year. They've been through too much, come too far, and they're playing too well for them not to get the job done Sunday.

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