BY GEOFF HOBSON
Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander has more than a passing interest in Sunday's AFC playoff game (Channel 12 in Cincinnati at 12:30 p.m.) pitting Cincinnati's Central Division rivals Tennessee and Baltimore.
Or for the nostalgia buffs, the Cleveland Browns vs. the Houston Oilers.
A lot of other people in the organization also have passing interest after a season the Bengals lost to those defensive masters by a combined 122-24 in the four games the Bengals' No. 3 in the NFL running game averaged less than three yards per carry on 87 tries.
In fact, Bengals quarterback Scott Mitchell says the passing is interesting because it's the only way to beat Baltimore and he thinks the Titans can do it.
"When we played Tennessee (the 35-3 Dec. 10 debacle), they just looked like a team ready to go to the Super Bowl," Mitchell said. "They just had that look. They were playing like a team that had been there before and knows it can get back there."
Alexander agrees the pass is the key for Tennessee, but he thinks a mobile, accurate guy like Mark Brunell is the only kind of quarterback that can solve the Ravens.
"The defense that forces the turnover on the other side of the 50 is going to win," Alexander said. "Each team will get one drive and that's it. There will probably be a defensive touchdown."
Bengals President Mike Brown looks at the Ravens' 165 points allowed, now a modern standard, and he thinks back to the 37-0 loss in Baltimore Sept. 24 that pushed head coach Bruce Coslet to resign.
"Baltimore has allowed the fewest points in football ever," Brown said. "Maybe Bruce shouldn't have been so despondent. We didn't know we were playing the best defensive team ever.
"It was common during the season for people to say the reason Baltimore and Tennessee had such good records is because they played Cincinnati and Cleveland twice," Brown said. "But that's as wrong as the argument that says
the reason Cincinnati and Cleveland are such poor teams is because they play Baltimore and Tennessee twice. In my mind, the team that wins this game is the favorites to get to the Super Bowl."
Brown says the similarities in the two teams are striking. Both have shut-down defenses, punishing ground games, big-play tight ends and workmanlike quarterbacks who don't get you beat.
"If I were to give an edge, it would be to
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Tennessee because their quarterback has been doing it longer, but who's to say?" said Brown of the matchup between the Titans' Steve McNair and the Ravens' Trent Dilfer.
Alexander has always said a lot about the Ravens.
"I've been saying for the past few years Baltimore has the best defense I've seen in a decade," Alexander said. "(Last week's Raven win over) Denver exonerated us all. Everybody talks about how good Denver is, but Baltimore did to them what they did to us.
"Both defensive lines are so good," Anderson said. "Tennessee is quicker. Baltimore is stronger. You can't move Baltimore. We've got a big, powerful line and couldn't move them. Denver is smaller and quicker and couldn't move them."
Bengals cornerback Rodney Heath loves the fact that Baltimore returns to Nashville as the only team to win on the Titans' home field.
"You know that's got to play with Tennessee's head," Heath said. "I think Baltimore can do it because they know they already did it. Watch out for their running back, now."
The 175-pound Heath knows of what he speaks. Outweighed by about 70 pounds, Heath tackled Tennessee running back Eddie George with one arm in the open field and his shoulder was never quite the same.
But Heath thinks Lewis is more dangerous.
"They're both great backs," he said. "But Lewis will hit you and then run away from you. He's fast. He could break it open for them with one play. Eddie's such a good player, too, but he's less likely to take it all the way."
Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of pro/college personnel, thinks it's going to be hard for Baltimore to win twice in Tennessee.
"Points will be tough to come by," Lipponcott. "Something like 6-3, or 10-7."