Ravens vs. Bengals 2012 game preview: two AFC North playoff teams collide in Cincinnati

Mitch Stringer-US PRESSWIRE

Both the Bengals and the Ravens have locked themselves into the playoffs, but that doesn't mean that this game has zero meaning. It just just a little more than zero meaning.

Just because it's possible for the New England Patriots, the Denver Broncos and the Houston Texans to enter the playoffs with the No. 1 seed, doesn't mean that the Cincinnati Bengals or Baltimore Ravens are capable of the same thing. The Bengals are locked into the No. 6 seed in the AFC and no amount of losing or winning in Week 17 will change that. What could happen, though, is if the Ravens defeat the Bengals in Week 17 and the Patriots lose to the Dolphins, the Ravens would slide from the No. 4 seed to the No. 3 seed and they would host the Bengals in the Wildcard round of the following week.

The last time these two teems met was in Week 1 one when the Ravens defeated the Bengals by a score of 44-13. However, the Bengals are the hot team, winning five of their last six to seal their spot in the post season in consecutive years, something they Bengals haven't done in 30 years. The Ravens, on the other hand, have lost three of their last four games and have battled injuries to some of the key players.

Meet the Ravens:

Joe Flacco and Ray Rice have had success throughout the 2012 season, but most don't believe that the Ravens offense is ready to take over the defense as the difference maker. However, future hall of fame linebacker Ray Lewis, who is the heart and soul of the Ravens defense, has been out since Week 6 of the regular season and his presence has definitely been missed. Lewis will likely come back to the team in the first round of the playoffs but will sit out of their Week 17 game against the Bengals.

The Ravens have won the AFC North for the second year in a row and for the fourth time in franchise history. They swept the Browns, split with the Steelers and will either split or sweep the Bengals on Sunday. They have played the Bengals a total of 33 times, winning 19 of those games.

Meet the Bengals:

The Bengals are going to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 30 years, largely thanks to the play of Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and a very tough defensive front seven. Dalton is just the third quarterback other than Peyton Manning and Dan Marino to throw for at least 20 touchdowns in his first two seasons in the league and he has athletic wide receiver Green to thank for most of them. Green-Ellis, who was signed as a free agent after leaving New England, has racked up a career high 1,094 yards heading into Week 17 and has scored six touchdowns.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bengals have excelled at rushing the passer, racking up 47 sacks, the second most in the league after the Denver Broncos. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins leads the team with 12.5 sacks as well as all interior defensive linemen in the league. The Bengals, like the Ravens and Steelers have pieced together a top-notch defense in the past few years that has helped them secure a playoff berth.

Local takes on the Ravens:

The folks over at Baltimore Beat Down question what the Ravens should do on Sunday when it comes to sitting players:

One would think that with all of the turn around the Ravens have dealt with from injuries to coaching changes this would be a huge game to try and smooth things out before they start the playoffs.

Then there is the school of thinking that this game could be essentially meaningless and why risk injury to players that are already dealing with problems themselves. It seems to me that, first of all the Ravens are keeping all of their cards very close to their chest, rightfully so, and secondly if they are going to go one way they should just go all the way that way and not half and half.

The guys over at Cincy Jungle believe that one of the reasons the Bengals have had success is due to coaching continuity:

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is in his tenth season. Defensive coordinator in his fifth and Jay Gruden is completing only his second. All are signed through 2014. Let's not forget Darrin Simmons, the team's Special Teams coordinator for the tenth season. Some assistant coaches like running backs coach Jim Anderson (29th season) and offensive line coach Paul Alexander (18th) have been around longer. Or the Hayes brothers (Jay, defensive line coach and Jonathan, tight end coach) and Ken Zampese (quarterbacks coach), who joined the Bengals with Lewis ten years ago.

Follow the fun

Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Baltimore Beat Down and Cincy Jungle, for more analysis and highlights from the game.

Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:

@CincyJungle

@Baltimorebeatdo

@JoeReedy - Bengals beat writer

@Jeffzrebiecsun - Ravens beat writer

Prediction

From SB Nation's Week 17 picks:

A meaningful AFC North game in December that doesn't involve the Steelers. You don't see that very often. The AFC playoff field is set, with only seeding to be determined. The Bengals are going to do something I never thought was possible -- beat the Steelers and Ravens to end the season.

The pick: 20-19, Bengals

Odds

The Bengals are favored by three points in most books, according to Odds Shark.

Next Week

The Bengals will either face the New England Patriots, the Baltimore Ravens or the Denver Broncos on the road depending on who wins and who loses in Week 17. The Ravens would either host the Bengals or the Colts. We'll know after the last Week 17 game.

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