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The Ravens face an uphill battle in attempting to get back into the playoffs for a sixth year in a row.

They will face off against the Bengals in Cincinnati, where the Bengals are also undefeated (so far) this year. Last week was bad for the Ravens, but could have been a lot worse had the Dolphins won their game.

The playoff scenarios in place are a little screwy when it comes to the Ravens’ chances. The Ravens can get in even if both the Ravens & Dolphins win, due to their victory in week 5. However, if the Ravens, Dolphins, and Chargers all win, then the Dolphins get the #6 seed, as the three-way tie would go by AFC Conference records. There are also scenarios where the Ravens could get in even if they lose!

The Bengals have had their defense soften somewhat after losing a couple key defenders. Nevertheless, they have one of the top units in the league.  I do hope the Ravens plan on a lot of rushing, as the Bengals have had great cornerbacks for the last several years.

Their offensive line has been hit by the injury bug as well during the season, but there have been some adjustments and shifts made that have actually benefited the offense. The number of sacks allowed has gone down while rushing numbers have gone up, thanks to their two talented running backs Gio Bernard and Benjarvis Green-Ellis.

The Ravens will hope for QB Andy Dalton to have an off game as the playoffs approach. He has done what no other Cinci QB has done before, which is take the Bengals to three consecutive playoff berths. You’d think he was the next Joe Flacco in that he’s another awkward looking QB that has gone to the playoffs every year he’s been in the league.

Although, the big difference between the two is that after his second year, Flacco was 3-2 in the postseason, while Dalton is only 0-2 with both losses against the Houston Texans. Seeing that the Texans have fallen apart this year with a current 13 game losing streak, the Dalton-led Bengals will get to face some new competition in the playoffs.  Also, you have to think that the whole of Cincinnati, team and fans, has most of its mind set on the following week moreso than on the rivals who could miss the playoffs.

Sadly, this game will remain just a 1:00pm game (CBS). Had it happened after, say, the Patriots game, the Bengals might have less to play for and rest their starters. See, not only do the Ravens have something to play for, but also the Bengals have a chance to capture a #2 seed if the Patriots are to lose this Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. Although, if the Pats game wraps up before the end of this one, maybe the starters will be pulled.

Since the postseason starts the week following the regular season finale, there will be teams that may be resting players in anticipation. Sadly, this may include the Kansas City Chiefs, who will play the San Diego Chargers and can not upgrade their playoff seeding. There isn’t much reason for the Chiefs to try to win their game other than for pride & momentum.

The Jets will face off with the Dolphins and the only one with a chance for the postseason is the Dolphins. All the Jets could do is try to knock off their division rival and play to keep their jobs (including good ol’ Rex Ryan). There isn’t much to play for as the Jets know that they have been eliminated and a win would take away from their slotting in the 2014 Draft.

That said, winning football games is always one of the best alternatives to any other course of action in the NFL. So much emotion goes through both players and fans during a game. Even if a game ends in one’s non-favorable result, the whole of the game is still very enjoyable and brings about all kinds of highs & lows of emotions.  As of now, the old classic “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” should really be repurposed to suit (American) football.

So, when we get to Sunday, we should expect to see the Ravens try to win no matter what. Whether they get into the playoffs or not will be determined by the results of other games as well.  The best way for them to get in would be to win the game. This has been quite an interesting season to say the least.

We’ve seen players who have gone from virtual unknowns to main starters. We witnessed an undrafted rookie wide receiver in Marlon Brown suddenly become the leader in touchdown receptions on a team that was down two of its top receiving leaders a year ago. We’ve seen former 1st round pick Jimmy Smith finally emerge to be neck and neck with Lardarius Webb over who is the better starting cornerback. We saw rookie safety Matt Elam make bold claims about arguably the best wide receiver in the game, and backed it up as well as catching the game-clinching interception.

Whether or not the Ravens qualify for the postseason, we do know that they’ll be back next year with a stocked roster. Enjoy your weekend, happy New Year, and go Ravens!

– CW