It's a trap! Ravens must overcome biggest letdown game in NFL history

Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- After toppling the unbeaten New England Patriots, the Baltimore Ravens are looking to overcome the biggest trap game of the Super Bowl era on Sunday when they play at the winless Cincinnati Bengals.

The Ravens become the first team since the 1970 merger to face an 0-8 or worse team the game after facing an 8-0 or better team, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

How do the Ravens plan to avoid a letdown?

"It's a good question, certainly one I'm thinking about,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said, “But I'm not too concerned about our guys. If I see a problem or something, I'm going to be all over it, and they know that. But again, our guys understand. You want to make a big win matter? Then you have to follow it up with a win. If you follow it up with a loss, you've just negated the win. You might as well not have won the game. So, we don't want to throw that away.”

Last week, the Ravens had a emotional showdown with the defending Super Bowl champions on national television. Now, Baltimore is meeting the NFL's only winless team in what's expected to be a half-empty stadium.

Baltimore (6-2) is going from battling a six-time Super Bowl champion quarterback in Tom Brady to a fourth-round rookie making his first career start in Ryan Finley. Coaches acknowledged they're watching Finley's tape from NC State, and cornerback Jimmy Smith said he personally YouTubed Finley to get a scouting report.

The Bengals (0-8) rank 25th in offense and last in defense. Their average margin of loss is 10.8 points. They've been outgained by nearly 1,000 yards rushing, and it's only the midway point of the season.

The Ravens, who are currently 10-point favorites, are the one NFL team that has been able to avoid the major upset. Baltimore is 33-0 all time when favored by double digits, the only active franchise without a loss in those situations.

"We’re playing ball. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what the record is," quarterback Lamar Jackson said. "We’re all grown men. They’re going to compete their tails off regardless.”

Harbaugh is known for his attention to detail, and players said he’s particularly more critical during weeks like this one.

These methods have made him one of the top experts in winning these trap games. Harbaugh is 54-20 (.730) against opponents with a losing record entering the game.

His track record is even better during the homestretch of the season. When it’s Week 10 or later, Harbaugh is 33-6 (.846) against losing teams.

"Everyone is feeling good now, right?” tight end Nick Boyle said. "Everyone is happy and everyone’s emotions are high. How you set the tone is how you’re going to practice today. There’s not much to be said when you’re at this position in your career. This is what you’re paid to do. Go out there and perform. You should be self-ambitious to go out there and do your job week in and week out.”

In trying to keep focused on the Bengals, defensive end Chris Wormley referenced a former Navy SEAL who spoke to the team during the bye two weeks ago. Clint Bruce, who is now a motivational speaker, told the Ravens that you can either relax or reload.

"We’re going to take the latter of that and reload and attack it like we did the last four weeks,” Wormley said.

History says the Ravens can’t look past the Bengals.

Since Harbaugh became the Ravens coach in 2008, his most road losses have come in Cincinnati. He is 3-8 at Paul Brown Stadium.

If the Ravens win, it will mark Baltimore’s fifth straight victory -- its longest streak since 2010. The Ravens would improve to 7-2 for the third time in franchise history.

"I truly just believe: Keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Smith said. "Don’t be super-anxious and get tight backsides and just what we’ve been doing. Keep the cool. Go out and play the game you’ve been playing.”