Well, hello there, 2012. Nice to see you.
Hope everyone had a happy and safe New Years and you're not too tired or ... uh ... dizzy by the time 4:15 p.m. rolls around.
The Ravens have won only one of their last six trips to Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium, but if they drop today's game against the Bengals, it will surely be the most disappointing loss they've had in Cinci in some time.
There's plenty on the line this afternoon, but in order for the Ravens to secure a division title and a first-round bye, they'll have to play solid ball in all three phases.
Here are three keys to today's battle against the Bengals:
1. Don't forget about Ray
The Ravens' tendency to lean heavily on their passing attack in their road losses has a lot to do with them falling behind in games early on and needing to play catch-up. But regardless of the reason, the Ravens cannot give Rice the minimal carries that he's gotten in the bulk of their road games. Rice is averaging just 13.1 carries in the Ravens' games away from M&T Bank Stadium, compared to 21.8 carries per game at home. Rice must struggle at times against Cincinnati's tough run defense, but the Ravens have to stay committed to giving him the ball.
2. Control Ced.Bens
The Bengals have a host of weapons on the offensive side of the ball. A.J. Green, Andy Dalton, Jerome Simpson, Jermaine Gresham ... and the list goes on. But the Ravens have to contain running back Cedric Benson if they're going to have success today. Cincinnati's offense starts with Benson, and they work off of him, so if the Ravens can keep the Bengals' back in check, they should be in good shape.
3. Protect the ball, Joe
Simply put, Joe Flacco cannot continue to turn the ball over if the Ravens are to have success going forward. Flacco's 12 interceptions aren't a huge issue, but he's now fumbled 11 times this season and has lost six of those fumbles. Cincinnati does a great job of getting after the quarterback (they rank third in the league with 44 sacks), so Flacco must be especially alert today. The Ravens have not taken great care of the football in their losses this season, and that must change today.