The AFC playoff schedule and seeding were cemented Sunday afternoon on January 8, 2023 and the Baltimore Ravens will be heading back to the same venue they just ended their season in as they will face the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium for a second week in a row.
With their 27-16 loss in their regular season finale paired with the Buffalo Bills‘ 35-23 victory over New England Patriots, they are locked in the No. 6 seed and the Bengals are locked into the No. 3 seed. As a result, the two division rivals will faceoff for AFC North supremacy in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
The time and date for the matchup have yet to be determined but this will mark the third meeting between these two teams and the first time they will play each other in the postseason.
Several Ravens players expressed their excitement about getting to have another crack at the Bengals in the first round of the playoff following a game in which they gave them all they could handle and then some without many of their key starters.
“I’m looking forward to next week,” Pro Bowl inside linebacker Roquan Smith said. “Those guys know, when we come back next week, we be there. I’m excited and I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for us to show the world exactly what we’re going to do.”
Three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey kind of downplayed the loss and equated the Week 18 matchup they just played to more of a “scrimmage” than a game that actually counted for something. Six-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell is expecting another heated battle with much more at stake.
“It’s playoff football,” Campbell said. “Against a divisional opponent, this is kind of like what it will be next week. I respect them a lot, those guys are talented as can be, play with a lot of heart. Chippiness is part of the game. They want it just as bad as we do. It’s going to come down to who plays the best ball.”
Ravens Backups Stepped Up & Shined Bright Despite Defeat
With the likelihood of a potential rematch very high, the Ravens decided to rest several starters, most of which came on the offensive side of the ball. After a rough start to the game that saw them fall into an early 17-0 hole and starting running back Gus Edwards leave the game with a head injury, their depth player battles back and made it a much more competitive game in the second half.
They outgained the Bengals 134-78 and outscored them 9-3 in the second half. In his first career start in the place of third-year pro Tyler Huntley who was already filling in for injured starter Lamar Jackson, undrafted rookie quarterback Anthony Brown rebounded from three first-half turnovers and passed for more yards than Joe Burrow (286-215) on just two more attempts (44-42). He led four scoring drives including three straight in the second half after punting on their initial possession in the third quarter.
Their much-maligned group of pass catchers that saw three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson get waived the day before and All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews sit out the game, also stepped up in a big way. Veteran wideout Sammy Watkins recorded a pair of big plays on two catches that totaled 79 yards but the rookie tight ends were the real stars of the show.
Both Isaiah Likely and Charlie Kolar were selected in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft and they accounted for over half of Brown’s total yardage through the air. Likely set new career highs in receptions and yardage with 8 receptions for his first career 100-plus yard game with a team-leading 103 yards. Kolar was appearing in his second career game and caught 4 of his 6 targets for 49 yards.
Even though they rested their top running back J.K. Dobbins and Edwards left the game in the first half, the Ravens still managed to run for over 100 yards for the 16th time this season. Leading the charge was seven-year veteran Kenyan Drake who led the team in carries (16), and rushing yards (60), and scored the team’s lone touchdown of the game from 4 yards out.
Ravens Defense Played ‘Oustanding’ & Overcame Adversity in Week 18
The final box score doesn’t paint an accurate depiction of how well the Ravens played defensively against the Bengal. Even though the unit allowed more than 17 points for the first time since Week 12 and for just the second time in their last eight games, head coach John Harbaugh thought they “played outstanding”.
In the second half especially, they played at an exceptionally high level and made the adjustment to fix the problem areas they struggled with in the first half. After struggling to get off the field on third down and corral Joe Burrow in the opening two quarters, they forced five punts and sacked the 2022 Pro Bowler twice in the second half including one that resulted in a forced fumble giving their offense a short field.
They had to defend short fields twice as a result of turnovers by the offense in the first and while the Bengals scored both times in those instances, once came on a jump ball against a reserve cornerback in 1-on-1 coverage. That won’t be the case next week when they are expected to have both Marcus Peters and Brandon Stephens back after both were held out in the season finale.
Last season, a depleted Ravens secondary gave up 525 passing yards and 4 touchdowns through the air to Burrow in their second meeting alone. In the two regular-season games this year, they held him to under 220 passing yards, just one touchdown, and forced a turnover in each.
With a healthier team on both sides of the ball and the hopeful return of their former league MVP-winning quarterback, it should be a much closer game the third time around for all the marbles as Smith aptly stated.