Ravens

Bengals better on defense heading into playoffs

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Bengals better on defense heading into playoffs

CINCINNATI (AP) The Bengals think they're a better team - especially on defense - heading into the playoffs for the second season in a row.

They finished 9-7 last season, earned a wild card and lost at Houston 31-10 in the first round.

A 13-10 win in Pittsburgh on Sunday clinched another wild-card berth, only the second time in franchise history that they've gone to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

They're locked into the No. 6 seed regardless of what they do on Sunday against Baltimore (10-5) at Paul Brown Stadium.

The Bengals (9-6) said their playoff appearance last season - when quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green were rookies - taught them a lot about what it's like when it's one-and-out.

``I think it's helpful anytime you can get to the postseason and really see what it is about and just how games, how momentum can swing,'' safety Chris Crocker said on Wednesday. ``Just crazy things. We saw that last year. I think that will help guys going into it - kind of knowing what the atmosphere will be like.''

Cincinnati's limited playoff experience has been a detriment. The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since 1990. They've made it three times previously under coach Marvin Lewis - 2005, 2009 and 2011 - and lost their opening games by 14, 10 and 21 points.

Going for the third time in four years should help them keep the postseason in perspective. Lewis pointed out that there was no giddiness in the locker room when the Bengals clinched a berth on Sunday.

``When you've been beyond that, you realize there are bigger fish to fry,'' Lewis said. ``I think our group understands this now. Appreciate it, feel good about it, celebrate it, but realize what it took to get there and that it takes more, because now we're going to pare it down again.''

They're encouraged by the way their defense has dominated teams during a 6-1 streak that got them into the postseason. The front four has gotten pressure on quarterbacks consistently, with tackle Geno Atkins emerging as one of the NFL's top linemen.

Atkins leads NFL interior linemen with 12 1/2 sacks. Cincinnati has 47 sacks, one behind Denver for the league lead and one shy of the franchise record. The defense is ranked No. 6 in the league this week in yards allowed and has given up 13 points or fewer in six of the past seven games.

``Our defense is really clicking right now, man,'' tackle Domata Peko said. ``I love the way we're playing and I love the energy we're playing with. You have to have that chemistry, and it seems we're building on that. Everyone's been playing great.''

The defense played its best game in Pittsburgh. Leon Hall's interception return accounted for Cincinnati's only touchdown. The defense repeatedly pushed the Steelers out of field goal range in the fourth quarter, allowing Cincinnati to win it with a field goal set up by an interception in the closing seconds.

The Bengals hadn't beaten the Steelers since 2009, dropping four in a row. They've also lost four straight to the Ravens and were 0-6 the past two seasons against their top AFC North rivals before the breakthrough win in Pittsburgh.

``You think about that stuff,'' Crocker said. ``In my mind, we hadn't beaten anybody good, so what are we going to do now? We really stepped it up. I feel good from that standpoint.''

The Bengals won't know their first-round opponent until after their game against Baltimore. Currently, New England is in line for the No. 3 seed and would host Cincinnati.

If the Patriots lose at home to Miami and the Ravens win at Paul Brown Stadium, Baltimore would move into the No. 3 spot and would host the Bengals in the first round of the playoffs.

If the Patriots win, they have a chance to move up to a better seed depending upon how other games turn out. There's a chance the Bengals could open at New England, at Houston or at Denver.

Notes: The Bengals moved their practice on Wednesday to the University of Cincinnati's covered practice field because a winter storm moved through the area. The Bengals are the most northern team without their own covered field. Last year, they practiced in the cold leading up to the playoff game in Houston, and Dalton got sick. ... K Mike Nugent fully participated in practice. He has missed the past three games with an injured right calf. ... Cornerbacks Adam ``Pacman'' Jones, Terence Newman and Jason Allen were limited by hamstring injuries.

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Ravens at Seahawks Week 7: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

Ravens at Seahawks Week 7: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

The Ravens have four wins already this season, but none stand out as a signature victory.

The Ravens blew the doors of future 0-16 Miami Dolphins, then got past Arizona, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati by six, three and six points, respectively. The combined record for those three? 4-13-1.

Now, two of those games weren't really as close as the final score made it look. But for a team with designs on contending in the AFC, it's a little concerning that Baltimore's point-differential would be negative-15 if you take out the 59-0 win in Miami that, frankly, shouldn't count.

All that came against a pretty light schedule. The Ravens have only face two non-terrible teams, but they lost to both. Now? Their schedule takes another step up in difficulty, and the first stage comes in Seattle.

The Ravens are traveling across the country to face the 5-1 Seahawks, who are flying high thanks to their quarterback, Russell Wilson. Wilson would be something close to the consensus MVP if the season ended today, thanks to his 1,704 yards, 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

The Seahawks own one of the most fearsome home field advantages in football, making this one of the toughest tests of the Ravens' season. 

This battle looks especially important, considering the gauntlet awaiting Baltimore after their Week 8 bye. Five of their next six games beginning in Week 9 are vs. New England, vs. Houston, at Los Angeles (Rams), vs. San Francisco, and at Buffalo. Those teams are a ridiculous 22-6 this season, so the Ravens need to stock up on as many wins as possible during the rest of their schedule.

They'll look to enter their bye with some momentum behind an MVP candidate of their own, albeit not one quite on Wilson's level just yet, in Lamar Jackson.

Jackson continued his own stellar start to the season in Week 6, becoming the first quarterback to ever pass for 200 yards and rush for 150 in a regular season game. He also became the first player in NFL history to earn both the FedEx Air Player of the Week and Ground Player of the Week in the same season.

His dual-threat dominance has keyed a resurgent Ravens offense, forced to carry a surprisingly-struggling defense. The Ravens are hoping their in-season acquisition of cornerback Marcus Peters will provide a jolt to their injured secondary.

Speaking of the secondary, safety Earl Thomas is making his long-anticipated return to Seattle on Sunday, a reunion you don't want to miss.

This is one of the biggest games on the slate in the NFL this weekend, and it's one of the biggest swing games for the Ravens' season. Two franchises defined by their defenses will be carried by their high-octane offenses in what should be a terrific atmosphere.

Here's everything you need to know about the game. 

RAVENS AT SEAHAWKS WEEK 7:

Who: Baltimore Ravens at Seattle Seahawks

What: Week 7 of the regular season

When: Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019, 4:25 p.m. ET

Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA

TV Channel: FOX

Live Stream: FOX Sports, FuboTV

Radio: WBAL New Radio 1090, 98Rock and 101.5 FM

Weather: High of 53 degrees, 5-10 mph winds, strong chance of rain (80 percent)

RAVENS 2019 REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE:

Week 1: Sun., 9/8 at Dolphins, 1:00 p.m. (W, 59-10)

Week 2: Sun., 9/15 vs. Cardinals, 1:00 p.m. (W, 23-17)

Week 3: Sun., 9/22 at Chiefs. 1:00 p.m. (L, 33-28)

Week 4: Sun., 9/29 vs. Browns, 1:00 p.m. (L, 40-25)

Week 5: Sun., 10/6 at Steelers, 1:00 p.m. (W (OT), 26-23)

Week 6: Sun., 10/13 vs. Bengals, 1:00 p.m. (W, 23-17)

Week 7: Sun., 10/20 at Seahawks, 4:25 p.m.

Week 8: BYE week

Week 9: Sun., 11/3 vs. Patriots, 8:20 p.m.

Week 10:  Sun., 11/10 at Bengals, 1:00 p.m.

Week 11: Sun., 11/17 vs. Texans, 1:00 p.m.

Week 12: Mon., 11/25 at Rams, 8:15 p.m.

Week 13: Sun., 12/1 vs. 49ers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 14: Sun., 12/8 at Bills, 1:00 p.m.

Week 15: Thu., 12/12 vs. Jets, 8:20 p.m.

Week 16: Sun., 12/22 at Browns, 1:00 p.m.

Week 17: Sun., 12/29 vs. Steelers, 1:00 p.m.

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Ravens look for more AFC North separation, 5-2 record headed into bye week

Ravens look for more AFC North separation, 5-2 record headed into bye week

The Ravens have their toughest individual test of the season on Sunday.

Against MVP favorite Russell Wilson, the Ravens will need their best performance of the year. And if they’re able to get that, they’d be three games over .500 headed into their bye week with the Patriots looming. 

The rest of the division aside, the opportunity is there for the Ravens to pull ahead in the NFC North and the potential playoff race.

“It won’t make or break us, but it will go a long way in setting us up for where we’re headed down the road and what kind of season we’re going to have,” head coach John Harbaugh said. 

The Ravens currently have a two-game lead in the division with the Browns and Steelers on a bye week. With a win, their lead would move to two and a half games ahead of their bye next week. 

After that, the Patriots come to Baltimore for Sunday Night Football.

First, however, the Ravens are focused on the Seahawks, no matter how boring that may sound.

“I’m going to give you the cliché, but it’s the truth,” Harbaugh said bluntly. “We just have to focus on Seattle. So, how the schedule fell or how we fit...It’s better to be 4-2 than 3-3 or 2-4, but not as good as 6-0 or 5-1. That’s my thought on it. And 5-2 would be a lot better than 4-3.”

In order to get to 5-2, the Ravens will need to go through Wilson and his excellent season thus far. He hasn’t thrown an interception, has 17 total touchdowns and is on pace for nearly 5,000 yards from scrimmage. 

“He’s playing at an MVP level, and I agree with that,” defensive coordinator Don Martindale said. “It’s sort of like playing against Steph Curry in basketball, if you will. You can pick him up from half court, and he’s going to try to drive by you when you’re saying ‘keep him in the pocket,’ or you can slack off, and he’s going to pull up and hit a three.”

Baltimore will get new addition Marcus Peters into the fold to help with a growingly injured secondary. He’s already played Seattle this season, so the Ravens are hoping he’ll be able to draw on that knowledge to face Wilson and the rest of the Seahawks offense.

But perhaps the biggest story of the secondary is the return of Earl Thomas to the Seattle. 

The last time he was in a Seahawks uniform, he was carted off with a broken leg and flipped off his own sideline. He’ll return to his former team of nine years on Sunday.

“Hopefully they (the fans) respect what I've done, and I'll get a couple cheers, not too many boos,” Thomas said. “And whatever happens, happens, but hopefully it's love."

Aside from all of that, the Ravens say they’re not focused on 5-2 or what could come with a win over one of the NFL’s best teams and quarterbacks.

“We need to be 1-0 this week,” Harbaugh said. “We need to play our best football of the year in Seattle to win the game, and that’s what we’re planning on doing. And that’s what we’re going to work for.”

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