Ravens want playoff berth, but Bengals look to spoil New Year’s plans

While the Baltimore Ravens (9-6) are playing their best football of the 2017 NFL regular season at the right time, the Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) would like to finish the season strong after ending a streak of losses last weekend with a win against the Detroit Lions. Neither team can knock the Pittsburgh Steelers off the AFC North throne, but the Ravens can reach the playoffs for the first time in three years with a win over the Bengals.

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“I keep saying that I think we’re a very excited and very confident football team,” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said after the team’s 23-16 win on Saturday over the Indianapolis Colts in Week 16. “We’ve got to go about our business the right way, continue to do what we’ve been doing… But it’s a tough team we’ve got coming in here (in Week 17). We all know that.”

After back-to-back blowouts, the Bengals decided to give their fanbase a small Christmas gift – even if they opted to not come to the stadium (StubHub pregame tickets were selling for $9.00) – by entering the game motivated to win. While the offensive line pushed the Detroit defense around, setting up 142 yards of rushing, the defense got extra life from Carlos Dunlap who recorded back-to-back sacks to seal the win.

Baltimore doesn’t have to beat Cincinnati to get into the playoffs, but they’d need the Tennessee Titans or the Buffalo Bills to also lose to have a chance to move on. The Bengals would love to play spoiler, and force the Ravens to wait and see by earning the ‘W’ themselves.

“We know what’s ahead of us, and we know what’s at stake,” said Ravens safety Tony Jefferson. “It’s always good when your future is in your own hands. We just have to go out and get this one last win, and we are in the dance.”

“I know we won,” Bengals safety George Iloka said after the game against the Lions, “but midway through I’m like, regardless of the outcome, this is a different feeling today… Today it reminded us we can play with anybody when we knuckle down…”

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After spending Christmas with wins, both teams will be looking for some positivity for the new year as well. Neither team expressed much pleasure with the NFL’s decision to change their kickoff time on Sunday to the 4:25 p.m. ET slot. In total, the NFL shifted five games to the later slot so that teams vying for wild-card berths would play at the same time.

Allegedly, the concern about the late game time is due to the potential that fans will not fill M&T Bank Stadium to watch the Ravens and Bengals play, instead opting for New Year’s celebrations. Welcome to the Bengals’ world. They’ve been playing in near-empty stadiums all season – and in that respect, it may even things up a bit (the Ravens are highly favored in most betting spreads).

“I don’t think the NFL did us any favors by moving it back,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said on Tuesday. “But they don’t care about us… We have to take care of our own business. That goes for our team, for our fans, and for our city. Let’s go win the football game.”

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is focused on how his team does this week as much as any week. “We’re not done yet, but we did not (give up),” Lewis said after the win over the Lions. “Our goal as an organization is to be world champions. We’re not going to get there this year.” While Lewis may or may not be leaving Cincinnati after the 2017 season, he’s prepared his team to go for the win on New Year’s Eve.

“We have a lot to play for, too – the logo on our jersey and name on our backs,” said running back Giovani Bernard.

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