Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 12/30/11
Can Cincinnati derail Baltimore's championship hopes? Pat Mcmanamon and Zac Jackson prattle on about it in this weeks' idle chatter. What do the Bengals have to do best to beat Baltimore? Jackson: Get big days from their best players. That's kind of a vague answer, so specifically let's go with feed A.J. Green. Andy Dalton threw for 373 on Baltimore in the first meeting without Green, who's clearly a game-changer. The Ravens want to hit Dalton and confuse him with varied fronts, so Ced Benson needs to run well to keep them honest, Jermaine Gresham needs to be a threat to keep Ed Reed from shading to Green's side and Dalton needs to take care of the football. Here's a hunch that a big play from Gresham or Green wins it. McManamon: Pretty fundamental: Stop the run and play defense. As well as Andy Dalton has played as a rookie, the Bengals underrated defense has to win this game. To do that, it must limit Ray Rice and force the Ravens to throw. That way they can tee off on Joe Flacco and pressure him into mistakes (he has 11 fumbles this season, which ties him for fourth in the league). Flacco had a marvelous game that Sunday night in Pittsburgh, but since hes been ordinary, with four interceptions the last three games. Making Baltimore one-dimensional on offense is key to the Bengals winning. 2) Are they really and truly ready for this kind of game? Jackson: We won't know until Sunday, but why not? They've had one really bad game all year -- at Pittsburgh -- and though the second half of the season hasn't been pretty, the Bengals have hung in, earned the right to be here and have the players to win in this type of one-game situation at home. Dalton hasn't played like a rookie since mid-September and the defense has adjusted to its available personnel. The Ravens won't make anything easy, but expect the Bengals to have their A game. McManamon: Why not is right. Heres why not: The Bengals have earned the right to play in this kind of game, but they have beaten only one team with a winning record. All their losses have come against the top-tier teams -- Pittsburgh twice, Baltimore, Houston, San Francisco and Denver. To be the best, teams have to beat the best. A Bengals win puts the imprimatur on their season, which has been good already and could be better with a win that would give them 10 wins and a wild card spot. 3) Will there be more Steelers fans in Cleveland, or given the ticket situation more Baltimore fans in Cincinnati? Jackson: The waiting list for Steelers' season tickets is decades long. Lots of folks wait on the Cleveland game for their "home" game, and the Browns are hospitable hosts. Especially given the weather, the holiday and the state of the Browns, tickets will be available on the cheap and Steelers fans will come in droves. Terrible Towels all over Cleveland Browns Stadium -- again. Maybe someone will snap a pic and text it to Randy Lerner. McManamon: How do yellow and orange mix? Best be well, because Steelers fans will be coming down the turnpike in droves on Sunday. Theres been talk for two weeks of Pittsburgh folks buying tickets that Browns fans are selling, some for as little as 5 or 10. Steelers fans hijacked the stadium once -- for the Christmas Eve massacre. This scene could be worse. 4) Was James Harrison's kill-shot the last play we will see Colt McCoy with the Browns? Jackson: That's a tough question but it sure seems that way. McCoy and the Browns had (another) rather forgettable season and though the losses and the dropped passes certainly weren't McCoy's fault, he didn't do a whole bunch to make anybody believe the Browns could win big with him, either. The Browns are going to have a(nother) very high pick and need to explore the quarterback market. The Browns (again) have to sell 2012 as something different, something substantial, something that won't lead them back to a top-five draft pick. It seems tough to believe selling McCoy (again) would be a part of that. McManamon: It seemed likely until Robert Griffin III played in his (Tecmo) bowl game. That showed him as a talented player, but one who is too small and too versed in the spread offense to be a top five pick in the pros. Griffin may succeed in the NFL, but taking a running quarterback not named Vick in the top five is just plain silly. That means trading up for Andrew Luck, which wont be easy. So given the way the quarterback situation is playing out in the draft, the Browns might have no choice but to bring McCoy back. It might not sell well, but thats as likely an option as any right now. 5) What happens in these two big games? Jackson: The Steelers slowly, methodically and assertively will beat the Browns in a low-scoring game that won't be as close as the final score indicates. The Bengals will jump out early, squander the lead then beat the Ravens and clinch a playoff spot on a late Mike Nugent field goal. McManamon: Pittsburgh owns the Browns and the tepid way the players responded to questions about James Harrison shows that there is no way a Seneca Wallace-led team will take that ownership back. The game might be close on the scoreboard; it wont be close on the scoreboard. In Cincinnati, Baltimore has to show maturity it has lacked to beat the Bengals. The pressure is on the Ravens to maintain first place and secure a first-round bye. The Ravens have not always responded to that kind of pressure. Look for the Bengals defense to play inspired, and limit the Ravens offense in a Cincinnati win, a win that will have folks in Pittsburgh dancing for joy.
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