Win and In

Ravens can reach post­sea­son with win to­day

Sunday Star - - FRONT PAGE - By SEAN GRO­GAN sgro­gan@ce­cil­whig.com

OWINGS MILLS — While other teams around the NFL will be check­ing the scores of far-away games Sun­day, the Ravens and their fans won’t need to. Win and in. If Bal­ti­more can han­dle busi­ness against the visit­ing Cincin­nati Ben­gals in to­day’s Week 17 con­test, the Ravens are guar­an­teed their first play­off berth since 2014 and New Year’s Eve cel­e­bra­tions around Charm City can kick­off hours be­fore mid­night.

Play­ers ac­knowl­edged what is on the line, but many down­played any added pres­sure be­cause of the game’s sig­nif­i­cance. They’ve all been must-win games since Bal­ti­more en­tered its bye week of f of a loss to the Ten­nessee Ti­tans that put the Ravens record at 4-5.

“Back af­ter we lost to the Ti­tans, we had a seven-game sea­son left. We told our­selves that we have to take it a week at a time, game by game,

prac­tice by prac­tice. So far, we’ve been 5-1,” de­fen­sive tackle Bran­don Wil­liams said. “We have one more game to wrap it up, and it’s a big game. It pretty much lets us know if we’re go­ing to be on the couch next week or on the field. Def­i­nitely don’t want to be on the couch.”

The Ravens can still reach the post­sea­son with a loss to Cincin­nati. Bal­ti­more will make the play­offs if Ten­nessee or the Buf­falo Bills lose Sun­day.

The Ravens have no in­ten­tions of re­ly­ing on any­one but them­selves.

“We’ve got blin­ders on. We’re fo­cused. We’ve been play­ing these types of games for … this will be the sev­enth week now. Know­ing that com­ing out of our bye, we had to win six of seven to get us in. We’re right there in ac­com­plish­ing our goal, now we have to go do it,” safety Eric Wed­dle said. “This is an ex­cit­ing time — not only for my­self, but for this team and this or­ga­ni­za­tion to be back at this point. A mean­ing­ful De­cem­ber game to get in the play­offs is what you dream for.”

The Ben­gals and Ravens met in Week 17 a year ago un­der dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances. The game was mean­ing­less as both teams had al­ready been elim­i­nated from play­off con­tention.

“It is a lot eas­ier to be in a sit­u­a­tion where you know if you win you are in [the play­offs] as op­posed to hav­ing to win and have a cou­ple of things hap­pen,” quar­ter­back Joe Flacco said. “When you talk about, ‘Does it feel like a play­off game or not?’ I don’t know. It is tough to say what that ac­tu­ally feels like. No, we are not in the tour­na­ment yet. But there is def­i­nitely a lot go­ing into this one and ob­vi­ously a lot rid­ing on it.”

Flacco said he is un­sure if the Ben­gals’ mind­set en­ter­ing the game will be to spoil Bal­ti­more’s sea­son or not. Ei­ther way, he called Cincin­nati a tough and phys­i­cal team that al­ways plays hard.

It could be the last game for Ben­gals head coach Marvin Lewis, the first de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor in Ravens’ fran­chise his­tor y, who is ru­mored to be out fol­low­ing the sea­son af­ter 15 years as head coach.

Bal­ti­more crushed the Ben­gals, 20-0, Week 1 in Cincin­nati. The Ravens de­fense forced five turnovers that day while record­ing their first of three shutouts on the sea­son. But the Ben­gals have beaten Bal­ti­more in six of the last eight meet­ings be­tween the teams.

Of 32 NFL teams, 17 are elim­i­nated from play­off con­tention. Three more will have their hopes crushed to­day.

The Ravens are in a spot a ma­jor­ity of teams in the league envy, but it’s not where they saw them­selves in the pre­sea­son.

“We would have liked to be in four games ago. But it’s the NFL, and it doesn’t al­ways pan out like that,” line­backer Ter­rell Suggs said. “We have the op­por­tu­nity to get in. A lot of teams don’t have a chance to get in. Some other teams need a mir­a­cle — a foot­ball mir­a­cle to get in. We sit in a very for­tu­nate po­si­tion. If you win a home game, you’re in.”

AP PHOTO

Bal­ti­more Ravens quar­ter­back Joe Flacco (5) cel­e­brates tight end Maxx Wil­liams’ touch­down dur­ing the sec­ond half of an NFL foot­ball game against Indianapolis Colts in Bal­ti­more on Satur­day, Dec 23.

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