BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Ravens fully understand the ramifications of Sunday's regular-season finale against Cincinnati.
"It pretty much lets us know if we're going to be on the couch next week or on the field," Ravens tackle Brandon Williams said. "Definitely don't want to be on the couch."
Beat or tie the Bengals (6-9), and the Ravens (9-6) end a two-year hiatus from the postseason. Lose, and Baltimore will need help (a loss or tie by either Buffalo or Tennessee) to get in.
So, the plan for the Ravens is to take care of business themselves.
"This is the most important game for us this season," tight end Benjamin Watson said. "We understand the urgency of it."
This could be the final game for Marvin Lewis as Cincinnati's head coach, now in his 15th season with the Bengals. Lewis brushed aside reports that he's preparing to move on, insisting that his future is secondary to guiding Cincinnati to an upset.
"I'm not going to reflect if this is my last game or not," Lewis said. "You never know when the last game is, so I don't do any reflection."
His players aren't sure what to expect.
"We don't have enough validation as to whether or not that's true. It's all speculation," defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. "Come the new year, it may be a new year. But right now we're going to prepare for the Ravens as if we were playing in Week One."
Ah, Week One. This game is a rematch of the season opener, when the Ravens set the tone for Cincinnati's season in a 20-0 rout.
Some things to know about the Bengals-Ravens game:
LOOKING BACK: Lewis usually deflects questions about returning to Baltimore, but on this occasion he reflected on his time with the Ravens as a defensive coordinator from 1996-2001.
"I have incredible memories," Lewis said. "Obviously, with the franchise moving there in 1996 and the things that we were able to do."
Lewis earned a Super Bowl ring with the 2000 Ravens. He has enjoyed a good run with Cincinnati, and was asked if his players might want to send him out on a high note.
"I don't know where they are sending me to," Lewis said coyly. "They want to send themselves out with a high note."
JUST CHILL: The temperature could be in the single digits, and the Ravens aren't looking forward to it.
"If anybody tells you that they don't think about it, they are lying," Watson said. "They are trying to be the 'tough football player.' We definitely think about it, but I will tell you, it is one of those things where you know what it is going to be this time of year."
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said: "I would rather play in 65 degrees and sunny, but it is what it is."
Flacco has thrown eight touchdowns and only two interceptions over the past six games. Baltimore is 5-1 during that span.
SHOWING UP: The Bengals gave two uninspired performances in 33-7 and 34-7 losses to the Bears and Vikings before rebounding last week with a 26-17 win over the Lions.
That seemingly ended the questions about whether they'd packed it in during their second straight losing season.
"We're confident right now because the last few weeks had been pretty rough, almost demoralizing," safety George Iloka said. "When you start losing by 20 points, 30 points, it'll do something to you as a player. But I'm happy how we responded last week. I'd say right now, we're confident."
SUGGS APPRECIATION: It's been a heck of a season for 35-year-old Terrell Suggs, who has 11 sacks for a Baltimore team that leads the NFL with 33 takeaways.
"Obviously, there is no one that has seen Terrell more than I have, literally, since his pro day at Arizona State," Lewis said. "A physical linebacker, defensive end, whatever you want to call it. He just produces year-in and year-out."
Williams said: "When you look at the outside linebacker position, that's the first person you think of. He's an X-factor. As long as he's there, you have a chance. It's great to have him. Hopefully he has many more years to go."
LINE SHUFFLE: The Bengals have lost left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and right tackle Andre Smith, forcing them to improvise for the last two games of the season. Against the Lions, they moved left guard Clint Boling to tackle — he hadn't played there since college — and gave second-year guard Christian Westerman his first NFL start. The combination worked well, but it should be tougher against Suggs and the Ravens.