Morning Stripes: Bengals heading west

Good Black Friday morning to you all. Hopefully those of you who braved the intense mall crowds are home now and catching up on all the latest surrounding the Cincinnati Bengals and the rest of the NFL.

Speaking of the rest of the league, what a Thanksgiving night for the AFC North. At the end of an entertaining and chippy with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens came out on top, 22-20. According to ProFootballReference.com, it marked just the 14th time since 1970 that a game ended with that score. The last time a league contest had that score? Halloween, when the Bengals lost in overtime to the Miami Dolphins.

The Ravens' win all but eliminates Pittsburgh from playoff contention -- the Steelers still have an outside shot at the final wild-card spot, but so do a slew of other teams, including the Dolphins, Jets and Chargers. It also keeps the Ravens in the division hunt, moving them within 1 1/2 games of the Bengals' AFC North lead. If Cincinnati wins at San Diego on Sunday, that lead goes back to two games. A loss, and the Ravens would be within one game.

Cincinnati and Baltimore meet on the banks of the Ohio River on Dec. 29, during the regular-season finale.

Of course, there are still four games to go before that potential division-decider. One of the games the Bengals have to get through before welcoming the Ravens to Paul Brown Stadium is this weekend's matchup with the Chargers.

After going through an earlier and modified walk-through, the Bengals head out to catch a mid-afternoon flight to San Diego. In an attempt to get acclimated to a different time zone, the Bengals are taking off a full 24 hours earlier than they do for normal road games that occur in the Eastern or Central time zones.

At one point in coach Marvin Lewis' tenure in Cincinnati, those long road trips didn't go very well. Between 2003-09, the Bengals won just two out of the 10 games they played on the road against AFC and NFC West teams. The numbers change slightly if you take the reasonably close St. Louis Rams out of the equation, but not by much. The Bengals still were 2-6 on the road when they went to California, Arizona, Denver, Seattle or Kansas City.

In recent years, that's changed. Cincinnati has won four of its past five games out west -- three of the past four, if you don't include the Rams.

As we quickly go through Friday's Morning Stripes, we begin with a look at the Bengals' westward road philosophies:

  • The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr. writes about how the Bengals have turned around their far west road woes in recent years.

  • In this group of notes from Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson, Lewis cites how the Bengals have to approach Sunday's 4:35 p.m. ET kickoff as if it's like having a kickoff at that same time in the east. In Cincinnati's only 4 p.m. window game, the Bengals rolled the Jets, 49-9.

  • After a great run this season, the NFL finally has its first blackout of the year: Sunday's Bengals-Chargers game. ESPN.com's Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams writes about the blackout here. The game will be shown across Ohio on CBS, but it will not be air in Southern California markets. More than 5,300 tickets remain to the game.

  • Because of the threat that the Bengals' playmakers pose in the passing game, the Chargers this week have opened up competitions in their defensive secondary. It's a strange time of the year to do that, but coaches are looking for the best setup in the backfield that they can field. As great as the unit played at times in last week's win at Kansas City, its "bad is bad," defensive coordinator John Pagano said in this other item from our Eric D. Williams.