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Bengals' Atkins recognized as one of NFL's best

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Bengals' Atkins recognized as one of NFL's best

CINCINNATI (AP) Geno Atkins gets a lot of attention every time an opponent watches film trying to figure out how to contain the Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle. His first selection as a Pro Bowl starter shows what they think of him.

The undersized lineman is considered one of the NFL's best.

The third-year player was chosen as a Pro Bowl starter on Wednesday, his first such honor. He was an alternate last season. He and receiver A.J. Green were voted as starters, while four other Bengals are alternates.

There wasn't much talk about the 6-foot-1 Atkins when the Bengals took him in the fourth round in 2010. He leads all NFL interior linemen with 19 1/2 sacks over the last two seasons, including 12 1/2 this year.

``I want to get better and show the world that even though I am 6-foot-1, 300 pounds, I can still be the best,'' Atkins said.

His size worked against him when he came out of Georgia. The NFL prefers taller linemen with longer arms. Atkins has learned how to use his size to his advantage, getting low and making a push that's hard to blunt.

He's become a dominating player.

``He's got (12 1/2) sacks and that doesn't even tell the story,'' offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. ``The real story is people turning on the film and seeing play-in and play-out how he disrupts plays. Sometimes people just look at sacks and say he's disruptive. The truth is he's far more disruptive than just sacks.

``Week to week, he takes over. Stats don't tell you everything.''

Atkins is the most impressive player on a defense that has carried the Bengals to the playoffs for a second straight season. Cincinnati (9-6) clinched a wild card spot with a 13-10 win in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Atkins had two sacks and was regularly in the Steelers' backfield.

The Bengals finish the regular season at home on Sunday against AFC North champion Baltimore (10-5). Cincinnati will open the playoffs on the road against the Ravens, the Patriots, the Texans or the Broncos, depending upon how other games turn out on Sunday.

As the Ravens watched film of the Bengals' defense this week, one player stood out.

``Geno Atkins is a force out there,'' running back Ray Rice said. ``He by far is one of the best D-linemen around. As a running back, you want to know where he is at all times, because you don't want to cut back into his lane and let him make that kind of play.''

Atkins was honored on Thursday as the AFC's defensive player of the week for his performance in Pittsburgh, which included eight tackles and one forced fumble when he got to Ben Roethlisberger. He's also getting mention as a candidate for defensive player of the year, although he expects a defensive end or linebacker - someone with more chances to get sacks - to get more consideration than a tackle.

``You usually get the grunt work and not 19 or 20 sacks,'' Atkins said. ``They're playing more of a glamour position.''

Atkins was a first alternate for the Pro Bowl last season, when he tied for the lead among NFL interior linemen with 7 1/2 sacks. He's far and away the leader this season with his 12 1/2 sacks - Ndamukong Suh of Detroit is second with 7.

``I think I'm finally getting respect around the league that I show out there on the field,'' he said.

He'll have some company.

Green was voted a starter as a rookie last season and made it again, impressive for a receiver who is already challenging Bengals records for a season. Green has 1,324 yards receiving, 116 shy of Chad Johnson's club record for a season.

``Two years, two Pro Bowls. That's got a good buzz to it,'' Green said. ``But I've got a long way to go to be where I want to be. I want to be great.

``Like I told everybody when I came into this game, I don't want to be one ordinary receiver. I want to be mentioned with some of the best that ever played. That's what my goal is: One of the best that ever played.''

Whitworth and tight end Jermaine Gresham were voted first alternates. Quarterback Andy Dalton and cornerback Leon Hall are third alternates.

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow Joe Kay on Twitter:http://twitter.com/apjoekay

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Joe Flacco's status for Sunday's game vs. Bengals 'up in the air'

Joe Flacco's status for Sunday's game vs. Bengals 'up in the air'

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Carrying a three-game losing streak and a losing record, the Baltimore Ravens now face the burden of uncertainty at the quarterback position.

Joe Flacco is nursing a hip injury that could keep him out of Sunday's game against Cincinnati, an AFC North matchup that carries huge ramifications for the sagging Ravens.

With Baltimore coming off a bye, Flacco received an additional week of rest and treatment after sustaining the injury on Nov. 4 in the opening minutes of a 23-16 loss to Pittsburgh.

Flacco went the distance, completed 23 of 37 passes for 206 yards. His status this week, however, is unclear.

"He's getting treatment, just like all the guys are getting treatment, and we'll see," coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "I'd say that we'll know more as the week goes on and I'm hopeful all our guys play, including Joe."

If Flacco can't play, rookie Lamar Jackson will likely get his first NFL start, although veteran Robert Griffin III is also an option. Griffin gets the nod in NFL experience, but he's been inactive in every game this season while Jackson has been used periodically because of his ability to run.

"It's up in the air. We're not worried about it," Harbaugh insisted. "We're blessed with a good quarterback room. It's a good thing, that's a positive thing. We've got three guys who can play. It's just like any other position in my mind. You go with the next guy and you roll."

The Ravens (4-5) reached their bye week with losses to New Orleans, Carolina and Pittsburgh. The skid ruined a decent start and left the team in recovery mode as it seeks to snap a run of three straight seasons without reaching the playoffs.

This is the 11th season that Harbaugh and Flacco have been together in Baltimore, and the coach would love to see his quarterback rally the Ravens into the postseason.

"Any direction we decide to go or we're forced to go, it will be based on the health of Joe. If Joe can play, he'll play," Harbaugh said. "He's rehabbing to play. Joe does not have to practice to play. He's practiced the whole season, he's practiced for 11 years. But he might practice. We just have to see how it goes."

The 33-year-old Flacco has played through many an injury throughout his career. He did so against the Steelers. His teammates feel that if he can walk, he will play.

"Joe is one of the toughest guys I've played with, maybe the toughest guy," guard Marshal Yanda said. "You never see him limping around, you never see him on the field showing any sign of weakness. He's just been a rock for us. I have nothing but respect for the guy."

Tackles Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and James Hurst (back) did not play against the Steelers, but both are expected to return Sunday when the Ravens begin a stretch -- with or without Flacco -- that will define their season.

"We're in the hunt," Harbaugh said. "We'll write the story of the Ravens' 2018 season by how we play in the next seven weeks. That's what our guys are juiced up for. Get the Cincinnati Bengals in as fast as we can, and let's go play the game.

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Despite 4-5 record, Ravens just one game out of final AFC playoff spot

Despite 4-5 record, Ravens just one game out of final AFC playoff spot

Their record and performance over the last month may not show it, but the Baltimore Ravens are just one game out of the No. 6 playoff spot in the AFC.

The Kansas City Chiefs (9-1), Los Angeles Chargers (7-2), Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2), New England Patriots (7-3), Houston Texans (6-3), Cincinnati Bengals (5-4), Tennessee Titans (5-4) and the Miami Dolphins (5-5) all rank above the Ravens. But a win Sunday against the Bengals would push the Ravens to the No. 6 spot as they own the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Titans.

Beside remaining in playoff contention, a win Sunday is crucial considering head coach John Harbaugh's job is in question with his team sitting at 4-5, quarterback Joe Flacco is reportedly dealing with a hip injury and the possibility of rookie Lamar Jackson getting his first NFL start. 

After getting blown out 51-14 by the Saints, the Bengals fired defensive coordinator Teryl Austin on Monday. Cincinnati's defense ranks last in the league in passing yards allowed (313.3) and total yards allowed (454.6). A rested Ravens team will have to take advantage of the first team in the Super Bowl era to surrender 500 yards in three straight games as they are among five teams within one game of the final wildcard spot. 

Getting shutout by the Bengals this season would give Andy Dalton and co. a two-game lead over the Ravens as well as possessing the tiebreaker. 

According to the New York Times' NFL Playoff Simulator, the Ravens have a 27% chance of making the playoffs heading into Week 11 with their remaining strength of schedule ranking at No. 27. 

After hosting the Bengals on Sunday, the Ravens host the Oakland Raiders (1-7), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6) and Cleveland Browns (3-6), but have tough road games against the Atlanta Falcons (4-5), Kansas City Chiefs (9-1) and Los Angeles Chargers (7-2). 

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