CINCINNATI, Ohio (WCMH) — Before last year’s improbable run to the Super Bowl, the Cincinnati Bengals had not won a playoff game in 31 years.
And then chaos ensured. Cincinnati shocked the NFL by winning the AFC Championship for the first time since 1988 and came one possession short of winning its first Super Bowl last February.
The Bengals still aren’t the favorites to win the Lombardi Trophy, but the 2023 playoffs feature a Cincinnati team with plenty of postseason experience. Their quest for another magical run begins at home Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens on NBC4 at 8:00 p.m.
Super Wild Card Weekend coverage from Cincinnati begins at 7:30 p.m. on NBC4 or stream it live at NBCSports.com/Live.
Below are four things to know for Sunday Night Football:
Lamar Jackson’s health
Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson has not played a game since Dec. 4 when he suffered a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his knee against the Denver Broncos. Baltimore has gone 3-3 since Jackson’s injury, including back-to-back losses to the Steelers and Bengals to end the season.
“There is still inflammation surrounding my knee and my knee remains unstable,” Jackson tweeted Thursday. “I’m still in good spirits, as I continue with treatments on the road to recovery. I wish I could be out there with my guys more than anything but I can’t give a 100% of myself to my guys and fans. I’m still hopeful we still have a chance.”
If Jackson is unavailable, the Ravens will hope to start Tyler Huntley who missed their regular season finale against the Bengals with tendinitis in his right shoulder. In his four games as the Ravens starting QB, Huntley has just 471 yards and two touchdowns, averaging less than six yards per pass. Baltimore has averaged 13 points in five total games without Jackson.
Ravens rushing attack
The Ravens have placed a heavy emphasis on running the ball during Jackson’s absence. Baltimore ran for 930 yards in the six games without their starting quarterback for an average of 155 yards per game. But those rush yards aren’t translating to points with Baltimore unable to score more than 17 points in all six of those games.
The Bengals can give up rush yards as long as they don’t lose when it comes to time of possession. Baltimore’s No. 1 goal for the week will be keeping the ball out of the hands of Joe Burrow and the No. 6 ranked passing attack in the NFL. If Cincinnati wins the time of possession, they’ll win the game given Baltimore’s inability to score and the fact that they’re facing a Bengals team that ranks sixth in fewest points allowed per game.
Bengals’ injuries piling up
Whether or not the Bengals are primed for another Super Bowl run ultimately comes down to health. Cincinnati lost its No. 1 cornerback Chidobe Awuzie to a torn ACL during a week nine loss to the Browns. The following six weeks were mostly injury free, but lightning struck twice in Cincinnati’s week 17 win over the Patriots when right tackle La’el Collins also suffered a torn ACL.
The hammer dropped once again in week 18 when right guard Alex Cappa suffered an ankle injury and had to be carted off the field. Bengals coach Zac Taylor said it would be ‘tough’ for him to play in the Wild Card game.
“I mean I think I’ve been here all year so it’s not necessarily anything lacking. Cap’s just a great player,” backup guard Max Scharping said. “He’s had so much great experience. Cap’s just fantastic at what he does, so I’m just hoping to go out there and play to the best of my ability each play.”
If Cappa is gone for the rest of the season, the Bengals could be in trouble. A team that already ranks a dismal 29th in total rushing yards will have to rely on backup tackle Hakeem Adeniji and backup guard Max Scharping to protect Burrow who was sacked a record-breaking 19 times during last year’s playoffs.
Who Cincinnati could play next
If the Bengals get the victory over the Ravens, they will advance to the divisional round where they could play one of two teams.
Cincinnati would get the chance to host its divisional matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars next weekend if the two-seed Buffalo Bills lose to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday afternoon.
The only other team the Bengals could play is the Bills with that game being played on the road in Buffalo should both teams win on Sunday. The two teams started a Week 17 Monday night football game on January 2 that was stopped after Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest during play.