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

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Stefon Diggs is unsure about the NFL starting up with 'so many unanswered questions'

Stefon Diggs is unsure about the NFL starting up with 'so many unanswered questions'

On Tuesday, Cleveland Browns center and NFLPA president J.C. Tretter penned a letter questioning if the NFL is truly prioritizing player safety in its return to work plan, which is expected to begin with training camp at the end of the month.

Hours later, Buffalo Bills wide receiver and former Maryland Terrapin standout Stefon Diggs voiced similar concerns on Twitter, stating "I’d be lying if I said I was comfortable starting back up."

Earlier in the day, he tweeted that he missed football and that he loves the sport.

If and when the NFL does resume this fall, games will be played without fans in some stadiums. Diggs mentioned that it would be "weird" to play in front of an empty stadium, something he's never done before at any level of football.

Even if there are fans at NFL games this fall, they will be away from the playing field. The league has already announced that the first 6-8 rows of each lower bowl section will be blocked off from fans to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Instead, those sections will be covered with advertisements, similarly to how the Premier League has done during its restart.

Training camp is set to being on July 28, around the same time both the MLB and NBA will begin/resume their respective seasons. With live-action just a few weeks away, we've seen multiple players across both sports opt-out from playing, including Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman and Wizards sharpshooter Davis Bertans.

As the NFL season begins to get closer, it's likely only a matter of time before a few players opt-out, too.

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Wizards Moe Wagner to wear 'Vote' on jersey as social justice statement, per report

Wizards Moe Wagner to wear 'Vote' on jersey as social justice statement, per report

When the NBA returns to action in Orlando later this month, some players will have the option to replace their last name on their jerseys with social justice statements. 

Washington Wizards' Moe Wagner will be one of those players that will be opting to do so, according to the TNT's Chris Haynes. Wagner will have 'Vote' on the back of his jersey.

The second-year player will join several other stars that will be speaking out by virtue of their jerseys. As of now, he joins Rudy Gobert, C.J. McCollum, Pat Connaughton and others who will have a social justice message on their threads. 

Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz) - "Equality"
CJ McCollum (Portland Trail Blazers) - "Education Reform"
Jusuf Nurkic (Portland Trail Blazers) - 'Equality"
Kent Bazemore (Sacramento Kings) - "Education Reform"
Matisse Thybulle (Philadelphia 76ers) - "Vote"
Pat Connaughton (Milwaukee Bucks) - "Equality"
Meyers Leonard (Miami Heat) - "Equality"
Ivica Zubac (Los Angeles Clippers) - "Enough"
Moe Wagner (Wizards) - "Vote

More players will likely join-in to wear these statements. The NBA and NBPA agreed to this option allowing the players to inspire change on a large platform while restarting the 2020 season. The players can continue important conversations regarding race and social injustice as opposed to basketball serving as a distraction to larger issues within the country.

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Some players are "disgruntled with the lack of options" the NBA provided, according to Haynes. There are 28 options for players to chose from, along with their regular last name. According to ESPN, here are the phrase options:

-Black Lives Matter
-Say Their Names
-Vote
-I Can't Breathe
-Justice
-Peace
-Equality
-Freedom
-Enough
-Power to the People
-Justice Now
-Say Her Name
-Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can)
-Liberation
-See Us
-Hear Us
-Respect Us
-Love Us
-Listen
-Listen to Us
-Stand Up
-Ally
-Anti-Racist
-I Am A Man
-Speak Up
-How Many More
-Group Economics
-Education Reform
-Mentor

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