Rested Bengals placed in prime playoff position

Rested Bengals placed in prime playoff position

CINCINNATI (AP) The Bengals returned from their weekend off with a big bounce in their playoff chances.

While they rested from their 34-13 win in Philadelphia on Thursday night, the Bengals (8-6) moved into position to get the second AFC wild card spot. Pittsburgh (7-7) slipped a game behind with its overtime loss in Dallas.

If they win out, the Bengals would make the postseason, something that seemed highly unlikely at midseason when they slogged through a four-game losing streak.

There's also a chance they could win the AFC North, although they need help. Baltimore (9-7) lost its third straight game over the weekend, taking the division title down to the last two weeks.

The Bengals finish with games at Pittsburgh and at home against Baltimore. The one next week could go a long way in deciding their playoff fate. If the Steelers win, the Bengals would have an identical record with Pittsburgh, but the Steelers would have the head-to-head tiebreaker because it would have swept the season series.

If they win the last two games, the Bengals would achieve a few noteworthy franchise breakthroughs. Cincinnati, after all, has gone to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons only once in a 44-year history. The 1981 team reached the Super Bowl and returned to the playoffs the next season.

The Bengals would also end their recent futility against the AFC North's top teams. The Bengals are 0-6 against the Steelers and Ravens over the last two seasons.

Cincinnati has lost a combined 10 straight games to the Steelers and Ravens, dating back to the 2009 season when the Bengals won their last division title. Last season, they reached the playoffs as a wild card team.

``We really haven't done anything yet,'' safety Chris Crocker said on Monday. ``I'm not going to say this is a defining moment because we play these guys twice a year. But this is very big, especially at the end of the season.

``We're picking up momentum. These teams are postseason teams every year. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are always in the postseason and they always go deep, so it's important for us to play well against them now in order to go in with some momentum if we do make the postseason.''

Pittsburgh beat Cincinnati 24-17 on Oct. 21 at Paul Brown Stadium, a game that the Bengals let slip away. They jumped out to a 14-3 lead in the first quarter, but managed just 105 yards of offense after going 80 yards on 15 plays to score a touchdown on the opening possession.

Quarterback Andy Dalton is 0-6 in his career against the Steelers and Ravens. He's completed less than 50 percent of his passes (40 of 82) against Pittsburgh and has never thrown for more than 170 yards in his three games.

Cincinnati has managed just 38 first downs against Pittsburgh with Dalton as the starting quarterback.

``It's us taking care of our business,'' right tackle Andre Smith said. ``They have a great defense and they're going to play their game and wait for people to mess up. It's up to us to go out there and compete and execute every single play.''

This will be the fifth time during coach Marvin Lewis' 10 seasons in Cincinnati that the teams have played in Week 12 or later with playoff ramifications on the line for the Bengals. Three of those previous four games were also at Heinz Field.

Cincinnati won on the road 24-20 in 2003 on Jon Kitna's late pass to Matt Schobel. The Bengals finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.

They won again at Heinz Field in 2005, a 38-31 victory that put them in position to clinch the division title two weeks later. The Bengals then lost to the Steelers in the first round of the playoffs at Paul Brown Stadium, with Carson Palmer getting a torn knee on his first pass attempt.

Pittsburgh denied the Bengals a playoff berth in 2006 with a 23-17 overtime win at Paul Brown Stadium in the final game of the regular season.

Last season at Heinz Field, the Steelers routed the Bengals 35-7. Despite the loss, the Bengals still earned the No. 6 seed in the playoffs.

``They've been there, done that and played in many big games,'' Crocker said. ``We have to win this game.

``I don't know where we are if we don't win this game.''

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Three things to know about Ravens fifth-round pick Matt Judon

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Three things to know about Ravens fifth-round pick Matt Judon

We are profiling Ravens draft picks heading into the start of rookie minicamp Friday. Here are three things you need to know about fifth-round pick (146), defensive end Matt Judon of Grand Valley St.

1. Judon had 20 sacks last season, more than any player in college football at any level.

That is the main reason the Ravens drafted him -- to harass quarterbacks. Judon is an impressive athlete at 6-foot-3, 275 pounds. Size will not be a problem. Strength should not be a problem. Technique could be his biggest issue jumping to the NFL, but it’s hard to think of two better pass rushers to learn from than Ravens outside linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs. Judon is built more like Suggs, but both he and Dumervil have plenty of knowledge to share with Judon.

2. Don’t wonder if the jump from Grand Valley St. to the NFL will be too much for Judon.

Four other Grand Valley St. players are currently on NFL rosters -- CB Brandon Carr (Cowboys), WR Charles Johnson (Vikings), guard Tim Lelito (Saints), and OLB Dan Skuta (Jaguars).

3. Judon will have plenty of family rooting for him.

The West Bloomfield (Mich.) native has nine brothers and sisters. He will likely have some ticket requests.

Three things to know about Ravens sixth-round pick Keenan Reynolds

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Three things to know about Ravens sixth-round pick Keenan Reynolds

We are profiling the Ravens’ draft picks as they prepare to start minicamp Friday. Here are three things to know about sixth-round pick, WR Keenan Reynolds of Navy:

1. The biggest push to draft Reynolds came from assistant general manager Eric DeCosta.

DeCosta, general manager Ozzie Newsome, and coach John Harbaugh were visibly moved talking about making the phone call to Reynolds. All of them admire the way Reynolds has handled himself at Navy, both on and off the field.

When Newsome made the call, he put Reynolds on speaker phone so that everyone could hear his reaction. “Everyone in the room could be a part of telling him that we picked him,” Newsome said. “It was a special moment.”

2. Reynolds is much more than just a symbolic pick.

The Ravens believe Reynolds can stick as a punt returner, and that he has the athleticism and work ethic to become a polished slot receiver. Reynolds has many qualities inherent to top punt returners – good judgment, vision, elusiveness, sure hands, and speed. The Ravens also like that Reynolds has been working with CSN’s Brian Mitchell, a former Pro Bowl punt returner with the Redskins.

“Fortunately, we have a great relationship with Brian Mitchell,” DeCosta said. “We did our homework on him. He’s a guy that was a player of interest to us throughout the process. We kept it very quiet and, and it worked out the right way.”

 3. The Ravens are willing to wait if military obligations prevent Reynolds from playing right away.

Naval Academy graduates are obligated to a five-year military term, but Reynolds has hope of being able to play this fall. The Patriots drafted Navy graduate Joe Cardona last year as a long snapper, and he was granted permission to play. Cardona spent one day a week working at a Rhode Island naval facility. Reynolds hoped a similar arrangement could be worked out for him.

“I’m hoping and praying, and I’m confident that this potentially could be the same type of situation with myself,” Reynolds said. “It’s a blessing that the Ravens felt I was worthy to take a chance on with the military obligation and my service commitment.”

Will Matt Elam make Ravens in 2016 after fifth-year option declined?

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Will Matt Elam make Ravens in 2016 after fifth-year option declined?

It was no surprise the Ravens did not pick up the fifth-year option on safety Matt Elam by Monday’s deadline. The bigger question is whether Elam even makes the team next season.

The 32nd pick in the 2013 draft, Elam has been one of the biggest first-round busts in team history. Some of the standout players who went after Elam in that draft include Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short (44th), Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell (48th), and Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins (52nd).

Elam missed all of last season with a torn biceps, after underperforming in 2013 and 2014. Elam was a big hitter in college at Florida, but has struggled with missed tackles as a Raven, and has been even worse in pass coverage. With the Ravens acquiring safety Eric Weddle in free agency, and Lardarius Webb switching from cornerback to safety, Elam is expected to be a backup at best. He will compete with Terrence Brooks, Kendrick Lewis, and others for a backup role.

Elam is scheduled to make $1.327 million next season, before becoming a free agent in 2017.  However, Elam’s first priority is to secure his place with the Ravens in 2016.