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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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Report: Boldin to sign with Lions

Report: Boldin to sign with Lions

Former Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin is back for a 14th season.

Boldin, who turns 36 in October, will sign a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. In Detroit, Boldin will be reunited with Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who became the Ravens offensive coordinator during their run to the Super Bowl in the 2012 season.

The Lions had a major void at wide receiver with All-Pro Calvin Johnson's retirement.

RELATED: RAVENS AGREE TO ONE-YEAR DEAL WITH OL JAKE LONG

A former second-round draft pick, Boldin spent seven seasons with the Cardinals before the Ravens traded for him in 2010. In three seasons with the Ravens, Boldin averaged 62 catches and 882 yards. He came up huge in the 2012 playoff run, with a team-best 22 catches for 380 yards and four touchdowns. He had six catches for 104 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl win over the 49ers.

After that Super Bowl run, though, Boldin was traded to the 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick. Boldin led the 49ers in catches and receiving yards in each of the past three years. He had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with the 49ers in 2013 and 2014, leading many to question the Ravens decision to trade him. Last season, Boldin led the 49ers with 69 catches for 789 yards.

Boldin enters this season ranked 17th in NFL history with 13,195 receiving yards. One of the few players ahead of him is current Ravens receiver Steve Smith Sr., who ranks 11th (13,392). Boldin last season became the 13th player in NFL history with 1,000 career receptions and now has 1,009. Smith, incidentally, needs 39 catches this season join Boldin in the 1,000-catch club.

MORE RAVENS: RETURNING PUNTS KEY FOR 3 RAVENS WR'S ON BUBBLE

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Ravens agree to one-year deal with former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long

Ravens agree to one-year deal with former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long

The Ravens are expected to sign veteran offensive lineman Jake Long after he flies into Baltimore on Tuesday night, CSN has confirmed. The impending Long-Ravens deal was first reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN, who reported that Long and the Ravens had agreed to a one-year deal. That contract is expected to be signed if there were no last-minute concerns once Long arrived in town.

Long is a former Pro Bowl left tackle with the Dolphins who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft. He spent five seasons with the Dolphins, before joining the Rams for two seasons, then playing four games with the Falcons last season. Long is still only 31 years old, but he has been plagued by injuries in recent seasons, including two torn ACL’s.

The Ravens view Long as insurance at left tackle to as a backup to first-round pick Ronnie Stanley. While the Ravens believe Stanley can handle the starting job, the Ravens were left thin at the position after releasing veteran Eugene Monroe, who has since retired. James Hurst has been the Ravens’ backup left tackle, but in Long, the Ravens would have a more experienced option should Stanley struggle or suffer an injury.

RELATED: RETURNING PUNTS KEY FOR 3 RAVENS WR'S ON BUBBLE

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For three Ravens WR's on bubble, returning punts could be key

For three Ravens WR's on bubble, returning punts could be key

The Ravens don’t know who their primary punt returner will be, but they have plenty of options heading into training camp.

Keenan Reynolds, Michael Campanaro, and Kaelin Clay should all get reps returning punts. All three of those wide receivers are on the roster bubble, making their contributions on special teams even more important.

Campanaro has shown he can contribute as a wide receiver when he’s healthy.  However, avoiding injuries has been a major issue for Campanaro during his first two seasons.

The Ravens would prefer their punt returner to help the 53-man roster in another capacity, which may give Campanaro an edge. But if Campanaro, Reynolds, and Clay are not among the top six wide receivers when final cuts have to be made, will the Ravens decide to keep any of them strictly for their ability to return punts?

Reynolds will be a popular storyline during camp, as he tries to make the transition from Navy quarterback to NFL wide receiver. If Reynolds shows promise as a receiver, it will increase his chances of making the team, because his speed and ability to change direction will likely translate well to returning punts. Meanwhile, Clay had an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Browns last season, so he has already shown explosiveness as a returner.

Figuring out their best option for returning punts is one of many things on the Ravens’ to-do list, with the first full-squad practice scheduled for Thursday.