If the Ravens beat the Oakland Raiders (5-10) Sunday, they would clinch a wild-card berth and travel to face one of the aforementioned teams. Both games would be rematches from the regular season.
Here are some responses from our AFC North inbox:
Allan from Baltimore writes: The Bengals. This is a team that is not firing on all cylinders right now, and beating the Ravens a third time would be a challenge. The Patriots, on the other hand, seem to have developed a head of steam.
Paul from Ohio writes: As much as I respect Brady and Co., I'd take the Patriots again any day. I'd actually rather play any AFC playoff team other than the Bengals. The Bengals were able to shut us down offensively both times we played them and anytime you play a division rival it’s a whole different ball game. They've had our number this season, and if a team beats you twice in the same season they usually have something figured out to where your chances aren't much better the third time. Let's take the Pats in the first round and hope someone can take out the Bengals before the AFC Championship Game. We already get enough crap from Pittsburgh Steelers fans for losing three times last year. Let's not give Cincy the same pleasure.
Neal from Columbia, MD writes: Baltimore definitely wants a third crack at Cincinnati rather than a trip to New England. Baltimore's pass rush and secondary are both having serious problems, but the run defense is still strong. Cincinnati hasn't been able to throw the ball well recently and is definitely struggling its way into the playoffs on the back of Cedric Benson and the running game. Plus, Randy Moss and Wes Welker are clearly better than anything the Bengals can put out there. Most importantly, in January, would you rather face Carson Palmer or Tom Brady? Easy choice.
Tony from Dundalk, MD writes: Regarding your "Thought of the Day" question on which team Baltimore fans would rather see in the wild-card round, I would prefer to see New England. The Ravens' secondary has been lit up by "elite" quarterbacks all season, and normally I would fear Brady over Palmer in a playoff environment. However, going back to earlier this season, Rice averaged nearly 10 yards a carry against the Pats. Baltimore's offense simply doesn't click if the run isn't established, and Cincinnati's run defense managed to contain Rice in both games. Their linebacking core is head and shoulders better than New England's at this point. I would much rather face the Pats on the road.
Brett from Denton, MD writes: I would much rather play the Bengals. They have not played as well of late, and I believe the Ravens are coming on at the right time. Yes they gave one away in Pittsburgh. But, really, how many times is Derrick Mason going to drop a pass?
Ryan Cole from Baltimore writes: The Bengals or the Pats? That's a tough one. The Bengals appear to be reeling, but, then again, they match up against Baltimore really well. Even when they stink, they give us trouble. And while they may not be the team they were two months ago, they don't stink. Meanwhile, the Ravens outplayed the Pats…So I'd rather take the Pats first while Brady's still banged up. Then we can try our luck with the inconsistent Bengals.
Jeff from Falls Church, VA writes: From a Ravens fan, I'd rather see Cincinnati in the playoffs than New England. Cincy has been faltering recently when presented with tough matches. I'd take that over New England's potentially explosive offensive that would likely make the Ravens self-destruct.
Mark from Richmond, VA writes: Bengals without a doubt. Ravens have struggled against both teams in the past. But when push comes to shove, I think the Ravens match up better against the Bengals, and the Patriots are better than Cincinnati.
Mike from Chicago, IL writes: As a Steelers fan, if I were the Ravens I would rather face the Bengals. The Patriots haven't looked dominant this year, but they have a ton of playoff experience. For a good chunk of the Bengals' roster, this will be their first taste of the postseason. I would rather take my chance with the relatively inexperienced Bengals than the Pats. Plus, what's the chance they lose to a division rival three times in back-to-back seasons?
Josh B from Raleigh, NC writes: I'd have to say Cincy. They are pretty good at stopping the run and that is what the Ravens do best. But to face Welker, Moss, Brady and Co. with an injured secondary? No thanks.
AFC North Final Say
James Walker: Based on the response in our AFC North inbox, more Ravens fans want to see the Bengals a third time in the wild-card round. I agree. Baltimore has a prideful locker room. So I think it would be very tough for Cincinnati to beat the Ravens three times in a season, especially after the Pittsburgh Steelers did it a year ago. Avoiding Tom Brady in the playoffs would be wise, especially without two injured cornerbacks (Lardarius Webb, Fabian Washington) and Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed (hip, foot) in and out of the lineup. The Ravens and Bengals play the same smash-mouth style, and in the playoffs it would simply be a matter of who's tougher and smarter on that particular day.