Over the past three seasons, the Baltimore Ravens have proven to be one of the NFL’s best road teams, winning playoff games on the road in each of the past three seasons, but the team sure wouldn’t mind having the opportunity to try to continue its unprecedented 2011 success at M&T Bank Stadium during the postseason.
Baltimore (11-4) will enter Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium vying for an AFC North division crown, a first-round bye in the playoffs and the chance to host at least one playoff game. Meanwhile, the Bengals (9-6) will be vying for the conference’s final wildcard spot in front of their second sellout crowd of the season.
For the first time in the John Harbaugh era, the Ravens have an opportunity to get a home playoff game, as a victory on Sunday or a loss by by Pittsburgh in its regular-season finale at Cleveland would give Harbaugh’s club the division title by virtue of a head-to-head sweep of the Steelers.
The AFC North representatives would be the conference’s No. 2 seed for the postseason unless the New England Patriots (12-3) lose to the Buffalo Bills (6-9) on Sunday, which would then pave the way for the Ravens or Steelers to jump into the top spot in the conference, provided they win.
Baltimore, which has a 4-3 postseason road record in the Harbaugh/Joe Flacco era, certainly has some extra incentive to stay at home for this year’s postseason. Last week’s 20-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns propelled the Ravens to a perfect 8-0 regular-season record at home for the first in franchise history.
However, a Baltimore loss coupled with a Pittsburgh win over the lowly Browns, and the Ravens will be packing their bags for a trip out west wildcard weekend to take on either the Denver Broncos or the Oakland Raiders. That scenario would also net the Bengals a first-round matchup at Houston against the AFC South champions.
Cincinnati took a one-game advantage over the three-team grouping of Oakland, Tennessee and the New York Jets for the final wildcard berth after holding on for a 23-16 victory over the visiting Arizona Cardinals last Saturday. The Bengals had a commanding 23-0 lead to begin the fourth quarter, then held off a late Cardinals rally to prevail for a second straight week.
In the first meeting between these two teams on Nov. 20, the Ravens were able to make a goal-line stand late against the Bengals, holding on for a 31-24 victory.
Baltimore will face a tough challenge Sunday in a very hostile environment, as the Ravens are a meager 3-4 away from home in 2011 and have dropped five of their last six contests with the Bengals in Cincinnati.
The Ravens will be aiming to finish a perfect 6-0 in the division for the first time in team history.