By Stephen Stone (@SrStoneSports)
Cold Hard Football Facts' AFC North Sniper
What can you say about a game in which both teams pulled their starting quarterbacks before halftime? The Ravens already had the No. 3 seed locked up and the Bengals were set at No. 6. That considered, the Bengals beat the Ravens 23-17 bringing both teams' record to 10-6.
We turn our attention to their chances in the postseason.
1. The Bengals won 10 games for just the ninth time in franchise history.
While most of the franchise's failures come from the 1990s, Cincinnati has never been known for its league dominance. Yes, the Bengals won the AFC twice in the 1980s, but when you look at the franchise’s body of work you don’t necessarily see the 49ers, Cowboys or Steelers. Heck, even the Patriots have made the playoffs more times in the last 12 years than the Bengals have in their 45-year history.
That’s why there is so much optimism in Cincinnati these days. Fans have been waiting for consistent football and with a slew of young, talented players on both sides of the ball (most importantly in the passing game) there is hope that the playoff appearances will start piling up now.
2. Andy Dalton improved in every important statistical category this year.
Part of that optimism is the fact that the Bengals appear to have a franchise quarterback. Earlier this week I looked at how Dalton was single-handedly dispelling the notion of the sophomore slump. Now that his regular season is over, an examination of his statistics solidifies that claim.
Dalton’s passing yards climbed from 3,398 to 3,591. His Yards Per Attempt went up from 6.59 to 7.0. He threw 26 touchdown passes this year, a six score improvement from his rookie campaign. Finally, his rating went from 80.4 to 87.0 this year, a sign that he’s become a smarter, more efficient signal caller ready to lead men into January.
3. The Ravens had a rare rough December
The Ravens aren’t known for struggling down the stretch, especially in playoff seasons. Prior to this year, Baltimore’s worst record in the final five games of the regular season in a playoff year was 3-2, something they did in both 2001 and 2009. This year, the Ravens ended the season losing four out of their last five games and they won’t enter the postseason with momentum for the first time in franchise history.
Going strong into the playoffs may be the secret of Baltimore’s success. The Ravens are 6-2 all-time in their first playoff game.
However, things could be tough, especially considering ...
4. The Ravens are only 2-2 at home in the playoffs.
Baltimore is known for winning at home, going 14-2 in their last two regular seasons. However, when it comes to the postseason, the Ravens are 2-2 at home and 7-5 on the road.
Joe Flacco’s a better quarterback at home in the regular season. His final rating is Baltimore this year was 99.0 and his rating on the road was 75.4. But he’s proven to be a road warrior in January, winning four road playoff games in the first four years of his career.
Baltimore isn’t all that happy to have drawn Indianapolis either. I know these aren’t your fathers Colts and Peyton Manning is no longer under center, but the Ravens are 0-2 in the playoffs against the team that used to play in Baltimore.
5. Cincinnati gets a rare rematch (Cincinnati at Houston)
The Texans’ remarkable collapse now means they have to play in the Wildcard round of the playoffs and they will square off against the Bengals for the second consecutive year. This is the first time since 2003 and 2004 that two opponents squared off in the Wildcard round in back-to-back years. If history repeats itself, Cincinnati is out of luck.
In 2003, the Colts pounded the Broncos 41-10 in the first round of the playoffs, giving Peyton Manning his first career postseason win. They met again the following year, with similar results. That year, Manning and the Colts won 49-24. Cincinnati’s 31-10 loss to the Texans in the first round of last year’s playoffs means that they’ll have to break recent history if they want revenge.
On the plus side, Houston’s position in the Quality Stats Power Rankings has been steadily dropping in recent weeks. Indianapolis, despite being Chuckstrong and forging a magical run, is ranked near the bottom of the league as well.