The Ravens will be playing Sunday's game against the Bengals with fingers crossed and one eye on the M&T Bank Stadium scoreboard. They need a victory over their AFC North nemeses from Cincinnati and for Cleveland to pull off an unlikely upset over Pittsburgh to win the division and get a first-round playoff bye.

But a win over the 4-11 Bengals is by no means a given, especially after they dispatched the desperate Chargers last weekend, eliminating the surging Chargers from playoff contention with a 34-20 victory. With Chad Ochocinco sidelined and Terrell Owens on the injured reserve, Carson Palmer actually looked like a good quarterback again, completing 16 of his 21 pass attempts for 269 yards and four touchdowns.


I had been expecting the Bengals to mail it in against the 11-4 Ravens in Sunday's regular-season finale. But it seems they have some fight left in them after all, something the Ravens have certainly noticed.

"I had a chance just watching this last game that they played [Sunday] — they were lighting it up," Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters at his Monday press conference. "Their defense is playing at a really high level. To me, they're the Bengals right now that we expected them to be all year. I don't know about the rest of the season; we didn't watch them since Week 2, but they're playing at an incredibly high level.

"They're going to be incredibly motivated to come in here and make a statement."

And, to recycle Harbaugh's buzz word, the Ravens have struggled incredibly against the Bengals recently. The Bengals have won three straight games against the Ravens and nine of the past 12 meetings, including a 15-10 win in Week 2 in which they forced quarterback Joe Flacco into four interceptions. That ugly performance made the phrase "Cover 2" the equivalent of a dirty word here in Baltimore.

"The numbers don't lie; they have beaten us the last three times," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said Wednesday. "But this game got a little more to it. We're in Baltimore ... We're playing for our 12th win. We're playing for the possibility of getting the second seed in the playoffs and we're playing for the division.

"But yeah, it's fair to say they've had our way with us. Hey, wins and losses. They've won the last three."

Harbaugh said Wednesday that he would like to get some of the Ravens reserves some work, including backup QB Bulger. They have to tame the Bengals first, which no longer looks like an easy chore.