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Rested Bengals placed in prime playoff position

Rested Bengals placed in prime playoff position

CINCINNATI (AP) The Bengals returned from their weekend off with a big bounce in their playoff chances.

While they rested from their 34-13 win in Philadelphia on Thursday night, the Bengals (8-6) moved into position to get the second AFC wild card spot. Pittsburgh (7-7) slipped a game behind with its overtime loss in Dallas.

If they win out, the Bengals would make the postseason, something that seemed highly unlikely at midseason when they slogged through a four-game losing streak.

There's also a chance they could win the AFC North, although they need help. Baltimore (9-7) lost its third straight game over the weekend, taking the division title down to the last two weeks.

The Bengals finish with games at Pittsburgh and at home against Baltimore. The one next week could go a long way in deciding their playoff fate. If the Steelers win, the Bengals would have an identical record with Pittsburgh, but the Steelers would have the head-to-head tiebreaker because it would have swept the season series.

If they win the last two games, the Bengals would achieve a few noteworthy franchise breakthroughs. Cincinnati, after all, has gone to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons only once in a 44-year history. The 1981 team reached the Super Bowl and returned to the playoffs the next season.

The Bengals would also end their recent futility against the AFC North's top teams. The Bengals are 0-6 against the Steelers and Ravens over the last two seasons.

Cincinnati has lost a combined 10 straight games to the Steelers and Ravens, dating back to the 2009 season when the Bengals won their last division title. Last season, they reached the playoffs as a wild card team.

``We really haven't done anything yet,'' safety Chris Crocker said on Monday. ``I'm not going to say this is a defining moment because we play these guys twice a year. But this is very big, especially at the end of the season.

``We're picking up momentum. These teams are postseason teams every year. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are always in the postseason and they always go deep, so it's important for us to play well against them now in order to go in with some momentum if we do make the postseason.''

Pittsburgh beat Cincinnati 24-17 on Oct. 21 at Paul Brown Stadium, a game that the Bengals let slip away. They jumped out to a 14-3 lead in the first quarter, but managed just 105 yards of offense after going 80 yards on 15 plays to score a touchdown on the opening possession.

Quarterback Andy Dalton is 0-6 in his career against the Steelers and Ravens. He's completed less than 50 percent of his passes (40 of 82) against Pittsburgh and has never thrown for more than 170 yards in his three games.

Cincinnati has managed just 38 first downs against Pittsburgh with Dalton as the starting quarterback.

``It's us taking care of our business,'' right tackle Andre Smith said. ``They have a great defense and they're going to play their game and wait for people to mess up. It's up to us to go out there and compete and execute every single play.''

This will be the fifth time during coach Marvin Lewis' 10 seasons in Cincinnati that the teams have played in Week 12 or later with playoff ramifications on the line for the Bengals. Three of those previous four games were also at Heinz Field.

Cincinnati won on the road 24-20 in 2003 on Jon Kitna's late pass to Matt Schobel. The Bengals finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.

They won again at Heinz Field in 2005, a 38-31 victory that put them in position to clinch the division title two weeks later. The Bengals then lost to the Steelers in the first round of the playoffs at Paul Brown Stadium, with Carson Palmer getting a torn knee on his first pass attempt.

Pittsburgh denied the Bengals a playoff berth in 2006 with a 23-17 overtime win at Paul Brown Stadium in the final game of the regular season.

Last season at Heinz Field, the Steelers routed the Bengals 35-7. Despite the loss, the Bengals still earned the No. 6 seed in the playoffs.

``They've been there, done that and played in many big games,'' Crocker said. ``We have to win this game.

``I don't know where we are if we don't win this game.''

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Report: Ravens add Kenjon Barner to crowded running back room

Report: Ravens add Kenjon Barner to crowded running back room

The Ravens running back room has suddenly become a tad more crowded.

Baltimore has reportedly signed seven-year veteran Kenjon Barner, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

The addition of Barner likely has little to do with Baltimore's plan on offense, as Mark Ingram and rookie J.K. Dobbins are expected to carry the bulk of the Ravens' rushing attack.

Barner, a former star at the University of Oregon, spent the past year with the Atlanta Falcons as the team's primary returner. For Baltimore, bringing in a guy like Barner makes sense, as one of the team's primary return men from a year ago, De'Anthony Thomas, decided to opt-out of the 2020 season.

The signing of Barner is a low-risk, high-reward one for Baltimore. Rookie James Proche is also expected to be in the mix in the return game.

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Ravens coach John Harbaugh: ‘I can’t imagine there’s any safer place than an NFL football team right now’

Ravens coach John Harbaugh: ‘I can’t imagine there’s any safer place than an NFL football team right now’

Ravens coach John Harbaugh hasn’t been shy on his feelings about the NFL’s coronavirus protocols. He said in June, and repeated Friday, they’re impossible to follow to a T. 

But he’s also very confident in the ability of NFL teams to create a safe and productive environment during a global pandemic. 

Harbaugh said that compared to the rest of the country, most players are safer at facilities with their teams than at their homes.

“I can’t imagine there’s any safer place than an NFL football team right now, an NBA basketball bubble,” Harbaugh said. “We’re pretty darn safe. If you want to rank them, we’re all in the top five across the country. We’re right up there with anybody. We get tested every day and we are wearing masks everywhere.”

The Ravens, by all accounts, have done well making sure their facility in Owings Mills is not only following protocols for players and coaches, but also making sure it’s as easy a transition as possible. 

Rookie linebacker Patrick Queen said last week that players are constantly being reminded to wear their masks, wash their hands and keep distance from one another.

“All you can do is the best you can do and mitigate it to a great extent,” Harbaugh said. “I think we’ve done a really good job of that so far, there are no guarantees going forward. We’ve got to stay vigilant like we’ve done.”

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The Ravens have had just two players opt out of the upcoming season — wide receiver/kick returner De’Anthony Thomas and tackle Andre Smith — but it was certainly a conversation for a lot of players in the locker room. 

Most notably, defensive lineman Calais Campbell.

“I definitely considered (opting out). You have to,” Campbell said. “You can’t play football with this going on and not think about the risk you’re going to put on yourself and your family. Going through that process, I realized talking to the doctors and just setting up the protocols and other things we have to do to keep each other safe, I felt like the risks were mitigated the best we can.”

Campbell, who was acquired from the Jaguars in a trade in March, is set to turn 34-years-old on Sept. 1 and has asthma. 

The five-time Pro Bowl selection would have been one of the most notable names in the league to voluntarily opt out of the 2020 season. But with the protocols in place, he felt safer about his participation. 

One topic of discussion for the Ravens and their protocols, too, has been the option of quarantining a specific group of players to prevent a spread. 

Likely, those players would be at positions of extreme value — like quarterback — or players where backups aren’t readily available — like kicker. It just so happens that the Ravens have two of the league’s best players at those positions in Lamar Jackson and Justin Tucker. 

But as Harbaugh said, each move comes with a consequence, and that includes the “safer” option of quarantining the entire league.

“For instance, if you were going to quarantine the NFL for six months, yeah, if you were a doctor, you’d say, ‘Yeah, we want the best chance to keep everyone safe and healthy,’” Harbaugh said. “That would be great, but I kind of want to see my wife at some point in time in the next six months, and she doesn’t have coronavirus. So you’ve got to live with a certain amount of risk in order to live your life. We don’t want to forfeit all these guys' lives and they’re not willing to do it.”

Which means, for now, the players at the facility have assumed a level of risk for the upcoming season.

With the Ravens’ protocols in place, however, it’s all about minimizing those risks as much as possible.

“I put a lot of thought into it on my own, too, with my own underlying issues,” Campbell said. “I’m pretty confident in my ability to follow the rules.”

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