OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens do not care that the Cincinnati Bengals can reach the playoffs with a victory Sunday. The Ravens aren’t interested in the number of tickets the Bengals have sold for their home finale.
Call them selfish, but the Ravens have reached the point in the season when they are concerned only about themselves.
Even though they are already assured a fourth straight trip to the postseason, the Ravens’ incentive to win Sunday is every bit as strong as that of the Bengals. With a victory, Baltimore (11-4) will earn a first-round bye and the chance to improve its 8-0 record at home.
“It’s about us, man. It’s not about them,” Ravens defensive end Cory Redding said Wednesday. “We need to get this win so we can get what we’re looking for: a bye week and home-field advantage.”
Those are perks that Baltimore does not take lightly. A year ago, after beating Kansas City on the road in the wild-card round, the Ravens blew a 14-point halftime lead at Pittsburgh and were eliminated in a 31-24 defeat.
If Baltimore beats Cincinnati, it wins the AFC North and will secure no worse than a No. 2 seed. A loss, and it’s likely the Ravens will hit the road as a No. 5 seed.
That’s why winning on Sunday is so important.
“It’s huge. It makes a world of difference,” running back Ray Rice said. “Not having that bye, you usually come back into that next game scratching and clawing. As you could see, Pittsburgh was the fresher team last year when we had to play them in the divisional game. Second half, they came out with their motor running and we came out high, and then we hit a low.
“Needless to say, this week is a playoff game. It’s big for them but even bigger for us.”
Cincinnati (9-6) staged a two-for-one promotion for season ticket holders to sell out the stadium. The ploy worked, giving the Bengals only their second sellout of the season. But Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis viewed the development as irrelevant.
“Whether there’s one person in the seats or whether there are 60,000 in the stands, we don’t care. That’s their problem,” he said. “We don’t have to worry about selling out. We have to worry about trying to keep people out. We have a different vibe in Baltimore. That’s a credit to our city, a credit to our fans.”
Lewis and the Ravens would love nothing more than to treat the fans in Baltimore to another home game — or maybe two if the Ravens beat the Bengals and New England falls to Buffalo. Being in the playoffs is satisfying, but Lewis knows the road to the Super Bowl will be easier to travel if the journey begins with a rest stop and continues at M&T Bank Stadium.
“This is a playoff game,” he said. “The thing is, they’re trying to get in and we’re already in. We have to go finish what we started, what we’ve been working on the whole year. We know that we’re playing for home-field advantage. We know how big that is, to come play in Baltimore. There is nothing else on our mind.”
It’s hard to determine whether the bye or the home game is more important to the Ravens. The week off would enable several players to allow their injuries to heal, most notably receiver Anquan Boldin (knee) and guard Marshal Yanda (rib and thigh bruises).
Boldin won’t be ready until the playoffs begin, but Yanda — along with kicker Billy Cundiff (left calf) and cornerback Cary Williams (concussion) — are hoping to return Sunday.
Even the healthy players on the team would be delighted to get a break next weekend.
“Anytime you can get a full week’s rest to where you don’t have to worry about playing a game, that’s huge for any team,” Lewis said. “It’s no different for our team. We could get a lot of people back, a lot of people healed up.”
Given that the Ravens are unbeaten at home and 3-4 on the road, a bye and a home game in the postseason sounds mighty darn good.
“This is the type of opportunity that you work for in this league,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Everything we put into our off-season work, everything we do is geared toward this time of year. In my mind, this is the playoffs.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)