The Bengals felt better about Hamlin’s situation Thursday and even more so Friday when he exited his breathing tube, but if they needed to get their competitive juices flowing after witnessing such a traumatic event, the league gave them a surprising jolt.
NFL owners voted to pass a resolution adding two changes to playoff seeding and scheduling rules in an effort to address competitive inequities resulting from the cancellation of the Bengals-Bills game. One of those means the Bengals are no longer guaranteed a home playoff game unless they beat Baltimore on Sunday. If Baltimore wins and the two face off in the Wild Card round, a coin toss will determine the site of the match.
Karras could be heard on camera in locker room interviews on Friday saying, “Let’s settle the true path and (beep) win.” The Bengals don’t want to leave their ability to stage a playoff game to chance. Plus, as cornerback Mike Hilton and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase have said, they still feel like they have to prove they’re the true champions of the division.
Baltimore won Game 1, 19-17, and Buffalo beat Cincinnati, the Ravens could have won the division by going into the sweep. The Bengals have a chance to become the No. 2 seed with a win and a loss in Buffalo against New England.
2. Still no Lamar Jackson
The Bengals don’t have to worry about the return of quarterback Lamar Jackson, whose knee injury lasted into a fifth week on the sidelines. There’s a chance they won’t even have to face substitute Tyler Huntley as he’s questionable with a right shoulder/wrist injury.
Huntley has been restricted to training all week. If he can’t play, Anthony Brown would be next in line.
“He played against Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, so we have a bit of a film, but he’s got the same type of build (as Huntley),” Hilton said. “He’s an athletic guy, he can throw in the pocket and he’s been in the system, so he knows the system well. And whoever is there on Sunday, we just have to make it difficult for them.
Huntley is 2-2 over the past four games as a replacement for Jackson, but he’s only had 658 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions. Brown made his NFL debut in the fourth quarter of a 16-14 win over the Steelers on Dec. 11, but completed just 3 of 5 passes for 16 yards and the Ravens finished the game running the ball.
3. Stopping the race
Everything Baltimore does starts with running, even without one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Jackson.
The Ravens have the second-best rushing game in the league, averaging 163.1 rushing yards per game, and since JK Dobbins returned from injury in Week 14, he’s been outstanding. In those four games, Dobbins has 397 yards and a touchdown on 57 carries (6.96 yards per attempt).
Gus Edwards is also capable of doing damage. Two weeks ago against Atlanta, he carried the ball 11 times for 99 yards.
“That’s where it starts and ends with these guys,” Hilton said. “They like to stick to the schedule. Especially against an attack like ours, they really want to play ball control and keep our guys on the sidelines, so in defense we have to put them in more difficult situations by forcing them to throw the ball.
4. The red zone test
The Bengals have come a long way in their red zone offense since the Week 5 loss to Baltimore when they had the chance to take a third quarter lead on a 15-game drive that hit the 2-line. meters from the Ravens. . Cincinnati has been held out of the end zone for four consecutive plays, including a bizarre shovel pass attempt that had no chance.
Joe Burrow engineered a fourth-quarter touchdown to give Cincinnati a 17-16 lead with 1:58 left, but the Ravens responded with a game-winning field goal from 43 yards from Justin Tucker when time expired.
After that shovel pass to Stanley Morgan went incomplete, Cincinnati snatched 19 straight trips to the red zone with a touchdown (excluding knees), and the Bengals rank fifth in touchdown percentage in zone situations. 66.7% red.
Baltimore’s defense will put that to the test, as the Ravens rank second in percentage of touchdowns allowed in red zone situations at 47.2%. The Ravens are led by a strong corps of linebackers, including Patrick Queen and Roquan Smith, the Pro Bowler Baltimore acquired from Chicago in Week 9.
“I see a really good linebacker that pairs really well with Patrick Queen,” defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. “They are both very fast. They can run side to side, they handle a lot. They have good coverage. You can see the boost he gave that defense. … They’ve held a bunch of teams to not a lot of points, and not a lot of possessions, they’re doing a really good job.
The Ravens have several questionable defensive players, however, as defensive end Calais Campbell (knee) and cornerbacks Marcus Peters (calf), Kevon Seymour (finger/illness) and Brandon Stephens (illness) did not practice Friday.
5. Regain momentum
The Bengals were leading the Bills, 7-3, and looked good offensively when the game was called off on Monday, and now after such a difficult week, emotionally and mentally, they have to try to regain the momentum they had with a seven-game winning streak.
Coach Zac Taylor said he was impressed with how the players handled things this week and he has no doubt they will be ready to play on Sunday.
“I think they did a good job,” Taylor said. “They, again, had their space to prepare for Baltimore and at the same time have compassion for Damar and his family. And again, I was impressed with the leadership and the group, really everyone on the team, how they handled the situation. It’s been an impressive week for these guys.
Cincinnati should benefit from the return of defensive end Sam Hubbard, who suffered a calf injury and is still inactive on Monday. He resumed full participation in training this week and is expected to play. Eli Apple (neck) was the Bengals’ only questionable player.
THE SUNDAY MATCH
Ravens at the Bengals, 1 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7