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Bengals have nothing at stake in final game

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Bengals have nothing at stake in final game

CINCINNATI (AP) With their playoff seeding locked in place, the Bengals have the option of taking it easy with some of their players in the final regular-season game.

They've done it before, and it hasn't turned out so well.

The Bengals (9-6) haven't won a playoff game since 1990, going 0-3 in the postseason under coach Marvin Lewis. He wouldn't talk in any detail Monday about his plans for their concluding game against Baltimore at Paul Brown Stadium, other than to say he's learned from those playoff losses.

In 2009, Cincinnati had clinched the AFC North title before the final game on the road against the Jets. He rested starters during a 37-0 loss to New York. One week later, the Jets came to Cincinnati and won 24-14.

The starters were rested, but their momentum was gone.

``How'd that work out for us?'' Lewis said on Monday. ``I don't really have any beat-up guys. So, the only thing that is at stake is you go out and play to win the game every time we go. That's important.''

A 13-10 victory in Pittsburgh on Sunday clinched the final AFC wild-card spot. Baltimore (10-5) won the AFC North later in the day by beating the Giants.

The Bengals are locked in as the sixth seed, so they'll be on the road for every game in the playoffs. Their destination will be decided by how the final weekend plays out.

The Patriots currently are the No. 3 seed, which would put the Bengals in line for a first-round game at New England. If the Ravens beat the Bengals on Sunday and New England loses at home to Miami, Baltimore would move into the third seed and host Cincinnati in the first round.

There's also a chance the Bengals could open at Houston - where they lost 31-10 in a first-round game last season - or at Denver. The Broncos beat the Bengals 31-23 at Paul Brown Stadium on Nov. 4.

There are so many possibilities that the Bengals aren't paying much attention. Lewis is trying to get them focused on something else this week: evening up things with the rival that made them look bad at the start of the season.

The Bengals opened in Baltimore on Monday night and lost 44-13, one of the worst season-opening drubbings in franchise history.

``We didn't kick the season off very good, and now we get to finish it at home,'' Lewis said. ``We don't know who we will play (in the playoffs) or where. We just have to take it on ourselves. More in focus, though, is the Baltimore Ravens. They are a good team that just won our division and a team that beat the snot out of us in the first game.''

The Bengals finish at home against the Ravens for the second straight season. Last year, Baltimore came to town and clinched its first division title since 2006 with a 24-16 victory. The Bengals got a wild card when the Jets and Broncos also lost their final games.

It's only the second time in franchise history the Bengals are going to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. They also did it in 1981 - when they reached their first Super Bowl - and in the strike-shortened 1982 season.

The win at Pittsburgh on Sunday had special significance. Cincinnati hadn't beaten the Ravens or Steelers in the last two seasons, going 0-6 against its biggest rivals.

``That's a huge win for us because people were doubting us,'' defensive tackle Domata Peko said on Monday.

Even though the Bengals can't improve their playoff position, they can add to their momentum. Last season, dropped three of their last five games, then lost to Houston in the first round.

The win in Pittsburgh was Cincinnati's sixth in the last seven games. Although the offense has struggled lately, the defense has held opponents to 13 or fewer points six times during that seven-game stretch.

``In December last year, we were kind of (leveled) off a little bit,'' Peko said. ``This year we started slower, but now we're starting to take off. Those are the teams that are dangerous.''

Notes: Lewis said the Bengals emerged from the game in Pittsburgh with no significant injuries. ... The Ravens game hasn't sold out. The Bengals have failed to sell out two of their last three games, which were blacked out on local television. Last season, they did a buy-one, get-one-free ticket promotion to get the final game against the Ravens sold out.

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Ravens bruised but hopeful after Buffalo win ahead of short week  

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Ravens bruised but hopeful after Buffalo win ahead of short week  

The Ravens entered Week 14 as healthy as they’d been all season. 

They had perfect attendance at Friday’s practice — 53-for-53 — and didn’t have injury concerns at any spot of the roster. 

Sunday in Buffalo, plans changed. 

Baltimore had three players — Mark Andrews, Anthony Levine and Chris Board — leave with injuries and never return. Chris Moore, Chuck Clark and Jihad Ward were also injured, but returned at some point to the field. 

“Mark is not serious, thigh bruise type of thing,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Anthony is not serious, ankle, low. Both of those guys told me they’d be back Thursday. We’ll see how that goes as the week goes on.”

Andrews entered Sunday leading the team in targets with 79 and 53 receptions. Levine is one of the team’s top special teams players and an integral part of what the Ravens do in every facet of special teams. 

The loss of Andrews was mitigated by the performance of Hayden Hurst, who burst onto the scene and scored a 61-yard touchdown in the third quarter. He had three catches for 73 yards total.

“Hayden, to come out and make that play...you can see his ability there,” Harbaugh said. “He ran a good route. It was predicated on the fact that they were going to come down on the run real hard, and they did...Hayden accelerated, he caught it and ran. He was running away from defensive backs there.”

Without Board, another special teams player, the Ravens didn’t suffer any notable lapses on special teams all afternoon. 

It actually could have been worse, as Moore, Clark and Ward all returned after leaving the game with injuries.

The defense wasn’t any worse for wear, as they sacked Bills quarterback Josh Allen six times and made him uncomfortable throughout the day. The secondary came up large when it needed to, allowing just 146 yards through the air. 

Baltimore won’t have much time to address the injuries as it will now have to turn its attention to the Jets, who come to Baltimore on Thursday night. 

In a short week, there might actually be true injury concerns now for some of the most impactful players on the roster.

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Ravens win ninth straight game to clinch playoff spot in Buffalo

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Ravens win ninth straight game to clinch playoff spot in Buffalo

Coach John Harbaugh tried to make a big deal out of the Ravens’ playoff berth in the locker room. 

With a 24-17 win over the Bills at New Era Field, the Ravens clinched their second-straight postseason berth — a just reason to celebrate. 

But Harbaugh said the team only gave a brief applause, not a wholesale roar of cheers like he expected.

“I tried to make a big deal out of it in the locker room, and the guys kind of gave me a smattering of applause,” Harbaugh said. “I think they expected that, they earned the right to expect that. We’ve got three more games and things to accomplish still.”

Baltimore, at 11-2, is now mathematically guaranteed a spot in the AFC Playoffs come January. The news wasn’t unexpected, as it would’ve taken a complete collapse, and some help, for the Ravens to miss the playoffs. 

It’s the second year in a row the Ravens are playoff bound, and with a win next week, they would clinch the AFC North, too. 

“It’s great to lock up that playoff spot, but I think everybody in that locker room has aspirations to lock up that one-seed,” Hayden Hurst said. “We want the home-field advantage. We’ve got a couple games left to play and we’ve just got to focus on us.” 

The win wasn’t pretty, as the Ravens had to use their defense once again to get past a top opponent in the NFL.  Baltimore had just 257 yards of total offense, including 180 total yards from Lamar Jackson. 

He threw three touchdown passes, but all three were deep in Bills territory as the offense struggled to find a consistent rhythm all afternoon. 

Thus, the game was left on the shoulders of the defense to carry the load. 

“We want to be the heroes sometimes,” Matthew Judon said. “It’s usually Lamar and the offensive line, the heroes of the game and they milk the clock. Today, we were called upon and we practiced and we focused on our situations even though they drove the ball down the field. We knew bend but never break.”

Thanks to the defense’s standout performance, the Ravens were able to shut down the Bills and dance into the playoffs. 

They’ll have a short week before the Jets come to Baltimore on Thursday, but while Harbaugh tries to play up the playoff berth, that’s not what they have their minds set on. 

“We haven’t done anything yet,” Judon said. “Just getting in isn’t enough. We got in last year and it wasn’t enough. This game always leaves you wanting more, and you’ve got to make it to the next day.”

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