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Ravens-Bengals: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 18 November 2018 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 12:35 p.m.)

The Ravens come out of the bye week trying to snap a three-game losing streak and save their season against Cincinnati while starting a new quarterback.

With 11th-year starter Joe Flacco officially deactivated with a right hip injury, rookie Lamar Jackson will make his first NFL start, becoming the last of the five 2018 first-round quarterbacks to start a game this season. Jackson will also be the first quarterback other than Flacco to start a meaningful game for Baltimore since Kyle Boller midway through the 2007 season.

No pressure, right?

With Flacco on the game-day inactives list for the first time in his career — he was immediately placed on injured reserve after he tore his ACL in 2015 — veteran Robert Griffin III is active for the first time this season. How much he might play remains to be seen, but you’d expect offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to continue to occasionally use two-quarterback formations — only this time with two mobile options on the field.

After missing the Pittsburgh game with an ankle injury, left tackle Ronnie Stanley is active, but it was Jermaine Eluemunor lining up as the starting left tackle during pre-game warmups. Stanley was talking to members of the training staff as well as head coach John Harbaugh and offensive line coach Joe D’Allesandris, making it unclear if he was always going to be the emergency backup or potentially tweaked his ankle warming up.

Offensive lineman James Hurst remains sidelined with a back injury, meaning rookie third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. will make his fourth straight start at right tackle.

Running back Ty Montgomery will be making his Ravens debut. The former Green Bay Packer was acquired at the trade deadline late last month, but he was a healthy scratch against the Steelers in Week 9. He joins starter Alex Collins, veteran Buck Allen, and rookie Gus Edwards to form a quartet of active running backs against Cincinnati.

While the Ravens will be without their starting quarterback for Week 11, the Bengals will be without seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green (toe) as well as starting linebackers Preston Brown (knee) and Nick Vigil (knee). The impact of Green not playing speaks for itself, but the absences of Brown and Vigil will put pressure on reserves Hardy Nickerson and Vincent Rey to keep Jackson and the Baltimore running game in check. The good news for the Bengals, however, is the return of outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who missed the last two games with a hip injury.

Bengals wide receiver John Ross is also active after being limited with a groin injury this week.

Sunday’s referee is Walt Coleman.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for cloudy skies and temperatures reaching the high 40s with winds five to 10 miles per hour and no precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their black jerseys with black pants while Cincinnati dons white tops with black pants for Week 11.

Sunday marks the 46th all-time meeting between these teams with the Bengals holding a 23-22 series advantage. Cincinnati has won eight of the last 10 against the Ravens and is seeking its third season sweep in the last five years. That is one of the more telling factoids of the post-Super Bowl XLVII era that features just one playoff appearance for Baltimore.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Joe Flacco
OT James Hurst
LB Tim Williams
WR Jordan Lasley
OL Hroniss Grasu
TE Maxx Williams
DL Zach Sieler

CINCINNATI
WR A.J. Green
CB KeiVarae Russell
LB Preston Brown
LB Nick Vigil
OT Cedric Ogbuehi
WR Josh Malone
DT Adolphus Washington

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 17 November 2018 by Luke Jones

Sunday could possibly mark the start of a new era for the Ravens.

Or at least the soft opening of one.

With Joe Flacco not expected to play after sustaining a hip injury two weeks ago, Baltimore will enter a meaningful game with someone else at quarterback — the 2015 team was already buried when Flacco tore his ACL — for the first time since Kyle Boller relieved an injured Steve McNair midway through a disastrous 2007 season that ended with Brian Billick’s dismissal. Eleventh-year head coach John Harbaugh hopes for a different outcome as the Ravens aim to beat Cincinnati to snap a three-game losing streak and preserve their playoff hopes.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC North rivals meet for the 46th time in the all-time regular-season series with the Bengals holding a 23-22 advantage. The Ravens are 9-12 against Cincinnati in the Harbaugh era, and they’ve lost eight of the last 10 meetings, which includes the 34-23 defeat at Paul Brown Stadium in Week 2.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Lamar Jackson will throw for a touchdown and run for another. My expectation is the rookie first-round pick from Louisville making his first NFL start, but a stomach illness forcing him to miss Thursday’s practice wasn’t ideal, leaving open the possibility of Robert Griffin III starting. Either way, Jackson will have a larger role as Marty Mornhinweg tries to take advantage of his mobility and set him up with high-percentage throws to tight ends and running backs from big formations, especially early on. Jackson doesn’t have to be the reason the Ravens win; he just can’t be why they lose.

2. Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon will carry the Cincinnati offense with a touchdown apiece. In 11 career games against Baltimore, A.J. Green has averaged 4.8 catches for 80.5 yards and has caught nine touchdowns, making his absence significant for a struggling Bengals offense. However, Boyd has emerged as one of the NFL’s best slot receivers — a critical factor with Baltimore’s issues covering the middle of the field — and has also made plays on the outside. Mixon ranks 11th in the league in yards per carry (4.9) while the Ravens have given up over 100 rushing yards in four of their last five games.

3. The Baltimore defense will awaken with three sacks and an interception against Andy Dalton. As I wrote this week, Wink Martindale’s group needs to step up if the Ravens want to save their season and survive this less-than-ideal quarterback situation. They have only two sacks in their last three games and just one takeaway in their last four while the Bengals offensive line surrendered three quarterback takedowns and 11 other pressures in 28 dropbacks against New Orleans last week. After repeatedly noting how many batted balls they have this season, it’s about time the Ravens catch one.

4. Alex Collins will eclipse 80 rushing yards for the first time all season. Much is made about Jackson’s presence helping the running game, but a Pro Football Weekly article illustrated it’s more than that. Collins has averaged 4.7 yards per carry on 29 attempts from “11” personnel (one running back, one tight end) and just 2.97 yards on 33 carries from “12” personnel (one running back, two tight ends). What does that mean? No matter the quarterback, the Ravens should spread defenses out more when running and scale back the heavy formations that haven’t worked as effectively as they did last season.

5. The Ravens will survive in a 20-17 final to stop the pre-bye bleeding. Even against a Cincinnati defense that’s been disastrous in recent weeks and just fired coordinator Teryl Austin, expectations need to be tempered for a rookie quarterback making his first start in a critical game for a struggling playoff-hopeful team. That doesn’t mean Jackson won’t make some plays, but anyone labeling him an instant upgrade from Flacco is both placing too much pressure on a 21-year-old and disrespecting the veteran quarterback. Baltimore needs to go old school in this one by relying on the running game and a healthier defense that should be eager to prove it’s better than the last few weeks have reflected. If you’re asking what’s underneath the hood for this team right now, the losses to Carolina and Pittsburgh weren’t encouraging going into the bye. That said, I’d like to believe the Ravens aren’t quite ready to wave their playoff hopes goodbye, and the Bengals have lost three of four and are banged up at multiple positions. Given the current adversity for both teams, my honest feeling going into this one is closer to the old ¯\(ツ)/¯ emoji, but I’ll give the home team the benefit of the doubt.

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Ravens try to put “fourth-and-12” behind them with trip to Cincinnati

Posted on 12 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were on their way to the playoffs while Marvin Lewis was on his way out the door as Cincinnati’s longtime head coach last New Year’s Eve.

Then, “fourth-and-12” happened, a play that needs no further description or analysis in Baltimore.

Andy Dalton’s 49-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd with less than a minute remaining knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs and shook up both organizations to some degree. Instead of parting ways with his head coach, Bengals owner Mike Brown gave Lewis a two-year extension to continue a run that began in 2003. Changes to the Ravens were more nuanced after a third straight season without a postseason berth, this time with the backdrop of dwindling attendance down the stretch.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti didn’t fire anyone, but he admitted a month later to at least briefly considering replacing John Harbaugh, who is now in his 11th season in Baltimore. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees followed through on plans to retire — something he had reconsidered in previous years — before resurfacing with Tennessee just a few weeks later. Pees surviving a second straight late-season collapse after the previous Christmas in Pittsburgh would have been a tough pill to swallow for disgruntled fans, and he apparently wasn’t interested in forcing the organization’s hand.

If that final pass had been knocked away, do the playoff-bound Ravens trade back into the first round to draft quarterback Lamar Jackson, a move interpreted by some as partly made to rejuvenate the fan base? For all the handwringing about Joe Flacco, the veteran threw 10 touchdowns to just three interceptions for an 89.1 passer rating in the final seven games of last season and was Pro Football Focus’ 11th-highest-graded quarterback in the second half of 2017 as he finally got over the back injury that sidelined him for the entire preseason.

Do we see the organization’s concerted effort to improve the passing game if the Ravens play in January and even manage to win a playoff game? Or would it have been the typical halfhearted approach on the offensive side of the ball that we’ve too often seen in recent years?

One thing is certain despite some players’ best efforts to claim the contrary. The stunning 31-27 loss is still on their minds as they travel to Cincinnati on Thursday night.

“If I were to say no, I’d be lying,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “We’ve still got that bitter taste in our mouths, but this is a new year, new look, new opportunity for us to go out there and set the tone early. Some things we want back from that game, but that’s the past.”

To be clear, this is far from a must-win game so early in the season, but the Ravens have gone into their bye week with losing records in each of the last two seasons, illustrating how little margin for error they’ve afforded themselves the last two Decembers. It remains to be seen how strong the Bengals will be in 2018, but the defending AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers look as vulnerable as they’ve been in quite some time with All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell continuing his holdout, meaning any advantage gained now is valuable ahead of whenever he returns.

Playing five of the next seven games away from M&T Bank Stadium will be a daunting stretch, so a road win over a divisional foe carries more clout than any notion of the Ravens exorcising demons from last season. The best way to prevent history from repeating itself isn’t just to execute in that critical moment, but it’s to play well enough over 16 games to not be in such a hanging-by-a-thread playoff position once again.

“How many losses did we have last year, seven?” Flacco said. “You can argue any one of those teams ended it. We didn’t play good enough in any of those games, and I don’t think we’re really thinking about that. I’m not thinking about that. I’m just thinking about how confident I am in this group that’s here right now and what we’re getting ready to go do.”

That Week 17 loss certainly appeared to alter the present with a revamped passing attack coming off a superb Week 1 and new coordinator Wink Martindale now running the defensive show. How Jackson fits in the present and as the potential quarterback of the future will also be intriguing to watch.

But you wonder how it all might have played out if “fourth-and-12” didn’t become a thing.

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Ravens-Bengals: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 31 December 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Win and they’re in.

The task is that clear for the Ravens, who would clinch the AFC’s No. 5 seed and play at Kansas City in the wild-card round next weekend with a win over Cincinnati. However, an upset defeat would leave Baltimore to hope for a loss by either Buffalo or Tennessee to secure a postseason bid.

The Ravens will have to do it without one of their starting wide receivers as Jeremy Maclin is out for the second straight week with a left knee injury. Second-year wideout Chris Moore is expected to start in his place with Michael Campanaro and the recently-promoted Quincy Adeboyejo also in the mix.

Wide receiver Breshad Perriman is a healthy scratch for the fourth time in seven games since the bye as the Ravens elected to go with an undrafted rookie in Adeboyejo over their 2015 first-round pick on Sunday.

As expected, veteran wide receiver Mike Wallace (knee) is active and will start despite being limited in practice with a knee issue early in the week. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams (back), right tackle Austin Howard (knee), and fullback Patrick Ricard (neck) are also active after being designated as questionable on the final injury report.

Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste is active and will make his Ravens debut in a special-teams role. Rookie third-round defensive end Chris Wormley is also active for just the second time since the bye week.

Running back Terrance West is again a healthy scratch after not playing in Week 16, the first time he’d been active on game day since Week 5.

The Ravens will be playing a disappointing Cincinnati team that won’t be at full strength on defense as standout linebacker Vontaze Burfict (shoulder) was downgraded to out on Saturday. However, cornerback William Jackson (knee) and running back Joe Mixon (ankle) are active after being listed as questionable for Week 17.

The Bengals are very likely playing their final game with head coach Marvin Lewis, who is expected to part ways with the organization after 15 years at the helm in Cincinnati. Of course, Lewis served as Ravens defensive coordinator from 1996-2001.

Sunday’s referee is Ron Torbert.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 20s with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour and only a small chance of precipitation. Showing off his Minnesota roots, tight end Maxx Williams spent part of the pre-game warmup without a shirt.

The Ravens are wearing their purple  jerseys with white pants while Cincinnati dons white tops with black pants for its season finale.

Sunday marks the 44th all-time meeting between these AFC North rivals with the Ravens enjoying the slight 22-21 advantage. Despite a 20-0 shutout victory at Paul Brown Stadium to open the season, Baltimore has lost six of the last eight to the Bengals and is just 9-10 against them in the John Harbaugh era.

The Ravens are aiming for their 14th win in their last 15 home finales with the only blemish coming against New England in Week 16 of the 2013 campaign.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Jeremy Maclin
WR Breshad Perriman
RB Terrance West
LB Tim Williams
OL Jermaine Eluemunor
OL Maurquice Shakir
DE Bronson Kaufusi

CINCINNATI
WR Cody Core
DB KeiVarae Russell
RB Jarveon Williams
LB Vontaze Burfict
DL Josh Tupou
OL Cedric Ogbuehi
OL Justin Murray

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Ravens defensive coordinator Pees reportedly plans to retire after season

Posted on 31 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens could be looking for a new defensive coordinator in 2018.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Dean Pees is expected to retire at the end of the season after leading the Baltimore defense for the last six years. The news would hardly be a shocking development as the 68-year-old has pondered retirement in the past, but he has yet to let his players know of his plans beyond this season.

Pees is in his 14th season coaching in the NFL, but he’s spent more than four decades in the profession overall and was even the defensive coordinator at Miami of Ohio when current Ravens head coach John Harbaugh played there. He was hired by Harbaugh to be the Ravens linebackers coach in 2010 and replaced Chuck Pagano as defensive coordinator in 2012.

Tasked with coordinating the first defenses in team history without future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis at middle linebacker, Pees has led the 2017 Ravens to a top-10 ranking in most major categories including takeaways (first), interceptions (first), total defense (ninth), pass defense (10th), points allowed per game (fourth), third-down defense (ninth), and red-zone defense (ninth). Baltimore has also recorded three shutouts, the second-biggest single-season total in franchise history.

Pees is one of eight defensive coordinators in NFL history to coach in a Super Bowl with two different teams after serving in that capacity with New England in 2007 and with the Ravens in 2012.

Many are already speculating about the likes of Pagano, Marvin Lewis, and even Rex Ryan returning to reprise the role of defensive coordinator, but the Ravens have filled the job from within every time since Lewis was hired away from Pittsburgh to be the defensive coordinator for the inaugural Ravens in 1996. Should that trend continue, linebackers coach Don “Wink” Martindale would be the strongest internal candidate to become the seventh defensive coordinator in team history. Martindale spent one year as Denver’s defensive coordinator in 2010 and has been on the Baltimore staff since 2012.

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 30 December 2017 by Luke Jones

One more win.

That’s what the Ravens need to secure their first trip to the playoffs since 2014. Of course, a loss by either Buffalo or Tennessee would also send Baltimore to the postseason, but relying on the out-of-town scoreboard for help is an unsettling proposition in Week 17.

The Ravens will be facing a disappointing Cincinnati team playing out the string and quite possibly preparing to bid farewell to longtime head coach Marvin Lewis. The Bengals secured a 26-17 win over playoff-hopeful Detroit last week, but they’d lost their previous two games by a combined 53 points, which isn’t exactly indicative of a team playing all that hard for its coach down the stretch.

Still, Cincinnati has given the Ravens as many problems as anyone over the last few years, winning six of the last eight meetings with two of those coming at M&T Bank Stadium. And after being embarrassed in a 20-0 shutout by Baltimore to open the 2017 season, the Bengals would like nothing more than to wreck an AFC North rival’s postseason hopes.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens lead the all-time regular-season series by a 22-21 margin and own a 14-7 advantage in Baltimore. However, 10th-year head coach John Harbaugh is just 9-10 against the Bengals, who will miss the postseason for the second straight year.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Terrell Suggs will record 1 1/2 sacks against an overwhelmed Cincinnati offensive line. The Bengals will be without left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and are likely to again move left guard Clint Boling outside, which will spell trouble. Suggs was quiet against Indianapolis last week, but he was just named team MVP for the first time in his outstanding career and can taste a trip to the postseason. These are the types of games in which Suggs rises up to make a big play such as a strip-sack or batted pass, especially when playing at home. The 35-year-old had two sacks in the Week 1 meeting with the Bengals.

2. Cincinnati’s A.J. Green will catch his first touchdown since Week 13. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has occasionally used rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey to match up over the last two weeks, and I’d expect that trend to continue going up against Green, who is the biggest threat to the Ravens winning this game. Humphrey has played very well since his rough outing against Detroit in Week 13, so the stakes of this contest shouldn’t be too big for him. Like T.Y. Hilton last week, Green will make plays, but the Baltimore secondary will prevent him from being a game-wrecker.

3. Mike Wallace and Nick Boyle will make touchdown receptions for Baltimore. Since the bye, Wallace is averaging 73.5 receiving yards per game, which translates to 1,176 yards over a full season and is quite a contrast from earlier in the year. The uncertain status of Bengals cornerback William Jackson could lead to a big day for Wallace. Cincinnati ranks 31st against tight ends in Football Outsiders’ rankings, which is good news for Benjamin Watson and Boyle. The Bengals’ run defense is poor, but a big key to Baltimore’s offensive surge has been more aggressive passing on first down.

4. The Ravens defense will not duplicate its Week 1 output, but four sacks and two takeaways will do the trick. The Bengals were a mess at the beginning of the season and fired their offense coordinator after Week 2, but things haven’t gotten all that much better since. Andy Dalton isn’t going to throw four interceptions again, but the Cincinnati quarterback will be under some duress and repeatedly check down to running back Giovani Bernard. Unlike the Colts, the Bengals haven’t taken very good care of the ball this year and will make a mistake or two to stall promising drives.

5. Justin Tucker’s late field goal will allow the Ravens to exhale in a 23-13 win over the Bengals. Last week should have provided a good lesson as a three-win Indianapolis team gave the Ravens everything they could handle in a must-win situation. The Bengals’ recent success against Harbaugh’s team should provide more than enough motivation to not take them lightly, but that doesn’t mean it will be a cakewalk as Ravens fans will be biting their nails in the second half. Tucker hasn’t had the chance to make many big fourth-quarter kicks this season, but he’ll convert a long one with a few minutes left to make it a two-possession game and send the Ravens back to the playoffs.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 20-0 win over Cincinnati

Posted on 12 September 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens posting their first shutout since 2009 in a 20-0 win over Cincinnati to begin the 2017 season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. C.J. Mosley’s end-zone interception in the second quarter was the turning point. Between that red-zone turnover and Andy Dalton’s poor throw to a wide-open Cody Core streaking down the sideline on the next drive, the Bengals could have led 10-3 late in the half. Instead, the Ravens dominated after that.

2. If that Mosley pick was the turning point, the 17-play drive lasting nearly 10 minutes in the third quarter killed what was left of Cincinnati’s spirit. The Ravens converted three times with runs on third-and-short on that long march. How many times has that happened in recent years?

3. I had to laugh at hearing some take exception with Joe Flacco’s quip that it wasn’t that fun for the offense while overlooking him saying winning was what mattered. So many complain about athletes being disingenuous in interviews, but then we never like what they have to say when honest.

4. Watching Terrell Suggs play at this stage of his career reminds me of Ray Lewis in his final few seasons. What he might lack physically compared to his younger self he makes up for with his impeccable mental preparation and instincts. He took Bengals left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi to school.

5. Other than a few exceptions, the Ravens generated most of their pocket pressure without using blitzes against the Bengals. Sending an extra defender or two in the right spot is great, but the special defenses can wreak havoc on the quarterback with a four-man rush.

6. It didn’t show up on the stat sheet, but Brandon Williams had one of the better games of his career as a pass rusher. His pressure on Dalton impacted the aforementioned poor pass that could have easily been a touchdown, and Pro Football Focus credited him with four quarterback pressures.

7. You can only hope Danny Woodhead is able to return sooner than later as you could see what kind of weapon he can be as a receiver out of the backfield and in the slot. Alas, the Ravens were aware of his injury history when they signed him in March.

8. Za’Darius Smith silenced critics with a strong preseason and looked like one of the best players on the field before injuring his left leg in the second quarter. Losing him would hurt Baltimore’s versatility as he can be used as an interior rusher in sub packages.

9. Buck Allen handled the No. 2 running back duties as his 21 carries more than doubled the nine total he received in his disappointing 2016 season. The running game wasn’t overwhelming, but it was up to the task of controlling the clock and protecting a sizable lead.

10. Between Marvin Lewis’ white-flag-waving punt from the Baltimore 43 with less than 10 minutes to go and trailing by 20 and Dalton throwing the ball away on fourth down inside the red zone on the following drive, the reaction is summed up nicely here:

11. Perhaps they haven’t yet realized, but it sure looks like the Bengals’ window with the current regime slammed shut after their colossal meltdown against Pittsburgh in the wild-card playoffs two years ago. Cincinnati’s offensive line made the Ravens’ questionable group look like the Dallas Cowboys.

12. I enjoyed seeing Zach Orr on the sideline and celebrating with Mosley after the latter’s key interception. You know Sunday had to be a bittersweet day for the retired linebacker, but he’ll have every opportunity to learn what it takes to be a coach or a scout this season.

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 31 December 2016 by Luke Jones

Playing out the string.

Though the Ravens are closing out a regular season at Paul Brown Stadium for the fifth time in the last six years, this marks the first time that neither Baltimore nor Cincinnati is going to the playoffs since 2007 when John Harbaugh was still the special teams coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles. Even with nothing to play for beyond pride, the Ravens have declared their intentions to play all healthy veterans, a move that some have criticized in fear of a serious injury to a key player.

Meanwhile, the Bengals will miss the postseason for the first time since 2010 and have shut down several injured veterans such as wide receiver A.J. Green (hamstring) and tight end Tyler Eifert (back) in recent weeks.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the 42nd time in franchise history with Baltimore owning a 21-20 edge. The Ravens are seeking their first season sweep of the Bengals since 2011 and can also secure a 5-1 AFC North record, their best division mark since going 6-0 in that same season.

Below are five predictions for Sunday afternoon:

1. Justin Tucker will attempt a 60-plus-yard field goal. The two-time Pro Bowl kicker is a remarkable 10-for-10 on tries from 50 yards and longer and needs only one more to have sole possession of the single-season NFL record. The weather in Cincinnati should reach the mid-40s with minimal wind, conditions that are suitable enough to try a long field goal. Tucker has had one of the best kicking seasons in NFL history and deserves a chance to hit a season-long field goal at the very least.

2. Mike Wallace will reach 1,000 receiving yards for the first time since 2011. This is hardly going out on a limb with the first-year Raven just 16 yards shy of the mark, but Baltimore should make a conscious effort to get Wallace involved early after he was held to just four catches for 21 yards in Pittsburgh last week. Though the Ravens haven’t always utilized him well this season, Wallace has provided them with the vertical threat they sorely lacked after Torrey Smith’s free-agent departure.

3. Andy Dalton will throw for two touchdowns against a secondary once again without Jimmy Smith. It’s not a coincidence that the five highest passing totals allowed by the Baltimore defense this season have come in games in which the No. 1 cornerback missed significant time, a clear indication of the lack of depth in the secondary. The Ravens found a fourth-round gem in rookie Tavon Young, but finding another outside corner should be a priority this offseason.

4. Steve Smith will catch a touchdown and produce 80 receiving yards in his final NFL game. Joe Flacco throws to Smith often anyway, so there’s no reason to think the 37-year-old won’t be featured heavily. The mantra “Play like a Raven” has become a cliché in recent years, but the former Carolina Panther epitomizes the idea with the kind of intensity and physicality on which the success of this franchise was built. The Ravens are fortunate to have had the future Hall of Famer pass their way.

5. The Ravens will win in Cincinnati for the first time in exactly five years in a 23-17 final. Rarely have the Ravens ever looked like they were going through the motions under Harbaugh, which is why I expect them to play hard despite having their playoff hopes crushed last week in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the Bengals have been out of the playoff hunt for weeks while rumors have circulated about Marvin Lewis’ future. With an opportunity to send Steve Smith out on a positive note, the Ravens will win their first road game in over three months and finish the season with a respectable 9-7 record.

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Cincinnati bearing strong resemblance to last year’s Ravens

Posted on 25 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The 2016 script for the Cincinnati Bengals should sound familiar to the Ravens.

A heartbreaking playoff loss the previous January.

The departure of a popular offensive coordinator and the loss of several key free agents.

A difficult early-season schedule that included four of the first six games on the road.

And a growing list of injuries.

At 3-6-1, the Bengals find their season all but ruined without a miraculous turnaround. The injuries to Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green and shifty running back Giovani Bernard felt like the final nails in the coffin last Sunday, but consecutive post-bye losses by a total of five points have dropped Cincinnati out of serious contention in a mediocre AFC North.

It all sounds a lot like the Ravens’ circumstances a year ago that resulted in a 5-11 season, the franchise’s worst in nearly a decade. At the same point last year, Baltimore was 3-7 and already out of playoff contention.

“We haven’t won close games,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “We’ve had opportunities in the fourth quarter of football games. We’ve had leads. We’ve had opportunities, and we haven’t closed the games out.”

Of course, the Bengals’ woes guarantee nothing for the Ravens, who haven’t made things easy on themselves all season. Three of their five wins have come against the two worst teams in the AFC — Cleveland and Jacksonville — and just one of their victories has been by more than one score.

And don’t forget about that five-game losing streak against the Bengals, a drought dating back to the 2013 season. The Week 16 rematch with Pittsburgh is the most crucial game remaining on the schedule, but two games against Cincinnati — Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium and then the regular-season finale at Paul Brown Stadium — will be critical in determining the Ravens’ fate.

“We have to find a way to beat them,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “If we do not start beating the Bengals, then we are not going to win any division championships. That is especially true this year. To me, the whole thing goes through Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. We are going to have to win a couple other games, too, but it is the division. This is a division game. It is as simple as that.”

Starting fast is a goal every week, but the Ravens are facing a team that has one victory — against the winless Browns — since late September and will be without its best player. If ever there were a time for Baltimore to come out of the gate trying to step on the neck of an opponent, Week 12 is it.

The Bengals are down and know they likely need to win out to have any chance of extending their string of five consecutive trips to the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Ravens know they need to win these next two home games — including next week against Miami — to keep pace with the Steelers and put themselves in good position for a brutal final quarter of the season that includes road games at New England, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati.

On Sunday, the Ravens can’t afford to give hope to a struggling team that still has some talented players on both sides of the ball.

“We want to continue to build and get better,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, whose 19 career interceptions against the Bengals are the most he’s thrown against any team. “I think it is huge to get going just to get our crowd in it and to get everybody excited — to get our guys excited. These guys have played us well. We have not beaten them in a long time. It is definitely going to be a tough game, but early on will be a big part.”

We know this is a flawed Ravens team expected to once again be without top cornerback Jimmy Smith, but their problems don’t run as deep as those of the Bengals, whose penalty-riddled collapse against Pittsburgh last January now looks like the moment their window of opportunity slammed shut. Baltimore is trying to show its own window is still open despite going 10-16 since the start of last season.

There’s no excuse not to beat the struggling Bengals if the Ravens want to be taken seriously the rest of the way. A loss would drastically change their outlook for their five remaining games.

Peppered with questions from the Baltimore media this week about how the losses of Green and Bernard impact his struggling team, Lewis said the Bengals still plan on showing up at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. No matter how Cincinnati might look right now, the Ravens can’t afford to take their AFC North rival lightly.

“Five straight is five straight. Numbers don’t lie,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “They have kind of had our number. We are going to see what we can do to change that.”

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Playing Willy Wonka in America for a week for the German man who saved my wife’s life with bone marrow

Posted on 21 November 2016 by Nestor Aparicio

Now that it’s taken me a few days to recover from my mystery surprise vacation, it’s time to come clean on how all of the elements of the #NielsInTheUSA tour came together during his epic, whirlwind week of travel across the continent in search of Dirk Nowitzki.

The more we posted pictures from various places and with many friends, celebrities and people involved in Jenn’s fight for her life in battling leukemia, the more questions folks had about the journey.

All of it was a secret for him. It was designed that way because he told us he loves surprises. It was also his dream trip to America – the first time he’d traveled outside of Europe.

It all began with his initial letter, which we received on August 7, 2014 – just 42 days after he anonymously donated his bone marrow to Jenn from Germany that saved her life on June 26, 2014. Read the letter here: http://wnst.net/wnst/jennstrong-receives-the-greatest-life-and-love-letter-ever-written-from-germany/

WARNING: If you do not click on the above link and read the letter, you’ll miss the whole point of everything you’re about to read and you’ll never understand what you witnessed in pictures earlier in November. Please read it before you proceed…

(Yes, really!)

You’ll be glad you did…

***

German law states that donors must wait two years before they can be introduced to a survivor. We knew in August 2014 that Jenn would have to survive and thrive for the next 22 months in order to meet him.

As many of you know, Jenn’s leukemia returned last September and she needed her still-anonymous initial donor to once again give his lymphocytes to save her life on Nov. 19, 2015. This was our best shot to cure her cancer through an awful process known as “graft vs. host disease,” which she has spent much of this calendar year experiencing most of the gruesome aftershocks of her survival last winter.

On the afternoon of June 30th, we received an email from our John Hopkins transplant coordinator with the name of the angel who saved her life.

For two years we only knew that he was male, from Germany and 21 at the time of his donation of bone marrow to save a stranger’s life in America. All he knew was that it was a 41-year old woman in America he was trying to save with his blood.

His name was Niels Domogalla, now 23, and he lives in Witten, Germany. Despite having his email address, Jenn and I dove onto the internet and she found him on Facebook within 30 seconds.

She friended him. I friended him. We both began to write short letters of introduction but before we could finish them he had already friended us both back and had commented on our walls.

It was 4:30 in the afternoon in America. It was 10:30 in the evening in Germany.

And, so, a unique friendship was berthed.

And what, exactly, do you say to a person who saved your life?

 

***

 

It didn’t take us long to realize that this was a special and unique young man in Germany. First, he really was concerned about the quality and the grammar of his English. He speaks parts of four languages and his English is about 96% perfect, which is better than …

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