Nationals

Bengals better on defense heading into playoffs

201212231602577264742-p2.jpeg

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.

---

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

Quick Links

Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

usatsi_10837294.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

When the Washington Nationals visited San Diego on May 7-9, they won the first two games of a three-game series to move within 1 1/2 games of the National League West lead.

At the time, the Nationals were on a bit of a run and the Padres were reeling with a 13-24 record.

Two weeks after that series, the Padres and Nationals meet again in Washington, D.C (7:05 p.m. ET, Monday). And the fortunes of the two teams have changed a bit.

Since winning that series finale at Petco Park to avoid being swept by the Nationals, the Padres have gone 7-4 and are riding a three-game winning streak.

The Nationals have gone 4-4 and just lost a third straight game to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday in Washington to slip four games off the lead in their division.

The Nationals are the home team this time for a three-game series that opens Monday night with a matchup of left-handers -- Gio Gonzalez (4-2, 2.36 ERA) going for Washington with Robbie Erlin (1-2, 3.46) making a spot start for San Diego.

On paper, the pairing clearly favors the hosts.

Erlin, 27, has met the Nationals twice in his career. Both games were at Nationals Park. Erlin is 0-2 in the matchups with a 16.39 ERA.

In Erlin's two previous outings in the nation's capital, Erlin has given up 17 runs, 19 hits and six walks with six strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings. The Nationals have hit .413 against Erlin, who has a 2.68 WHIP against Washington.

This will be only the second start of the season for Erlin, who returned this year after having Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery midway through 2016.

Thirteen of Erlin's 14 appearances this season have been out of the bullpen. His one previous start was April 16 against the Dodgers. He gave up six runs (five earned), seven hits and two walks with four strikeouts in three innings.

Erlin is filling the vacancy created when rookie left-hander Joey Lucchesi went on the disabled list with a slightly strained glute. The Padres are hoping Lucchesi will miss only one start, although it looks like it could now be two or three.

Gonzalez is no stranger to the Padres. He started the May 9 game that the Nationals lost 2-1. Gonzalez allowed one run, five hits and three walks in six innings. Afterward, he said he struggled with his command.

Gonzalez was not involved in that decision. During his career, he has made seven starts against the Padres and has a 3-2 record with a 3.21 ERA, a 1.357 WHIP and a .253 opponents' batting average. Against the Padres, Gonzalez has given up 19 runs (15 earned), 41 hits and 16 walks with 41 strikeouts in 42 innings.

When the Nationals were in San Diego, first baseman-left fielder Matt Adams went 3-for-8 with a double, two homers, six RBIs and three runs scored -- although he got the third game off.

Since leaving San Diego, Adams has hit only .143. Washington's Bryce Harper is hitting .125 in the last eight games with a homer and three RBIs.

Another key player in the first Padres-Nationals series was Howie Kendrick, who was 5-for-12 with a double and two runs scored. But Kendrick has been lost with a ruptured Achilles tendon and on Saturday the Nationals promoted a 19-year-old prospect from Double-A.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Capitals vs. Lightning Game 6 Eastern Conference Final 2018: Date, Time, How to Watch, live stream

Capitals vs. Lightning Game 6 Eastern Conference Final 2018: Date, Time, How to Watch, live stream

When the Capitals take the ice in Game 6, they will be playing for their playoff lives. After losing Game 5 on Saturday to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Caps must win on Monday or their season will be over.

In order to do that, the Caps will have to change some things. First, they have to figure out how to win at home, something they have yet to do in this series. Second, they will have to find a way to get to Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy who has been dominant the past three games. Alex Ovechkin also needs to win the matchup against the fourth line since he has only two five-on-five points through five games. Finally, the defense will have to be better. Matt Niskanen took the blame for Game 5, but really it was a tough night all around.

Also, a few penalty calls against Tampa Bay would be nice too.

Where: Capital One Arena

When: 8:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Lightning, Game 6 will be broadcast on NBCSN

Live Stream: You can watch Capitals-Lightning Game 6 on NBC Sports' live stream page.

WHEN IS GAME 6 OF THE CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING PLAYOFF SERIES?

Game 6 of the Capitals vs. Lightning 2018 NHL Playoff series takes place on Monday, May 21 at 8:00 p.m. at Capital One Arnea.

WHAT CHANNEL IS GAME 6 OF CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING ON?

The TV broadcast of Game 6 between the Capitals and Lightning is on NBCSN. Capitals pre- and postgame coverage takes place on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
8:00 p.m. — Capitals vs. Lightning Game 6 on NBCSN
10:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
11:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime

WHERE CAN I STREAM GAME 6 OF THE CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING SERIES?

Game 6 between the Capitals and Lightning is available to stream online on Monday, May 21 live here through the NBC Sports live stream page.

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR GAME 6 OF CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING?

Capitals projected lines:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Chandler Stephenson - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana - Lars Eller - Brett Connolly
Devante Smith-Pelly -  Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Lightning projected lines:

Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Tyler Johnson - Brayden Point - Yanni Gourde
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - J.T. Miller
Chris Kunitz - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan

Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev

Andrei Vasilevskiy starts with Louis Domingue as backup.

CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING GAME 6 OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: