The AFC North will be in the spotlight on Sunday as the Ravens host the Cincinnati Bengals with a playoff sport hanging on the line for Baltimore. If the Ravens win the game then they’re in the playoffs. If they lose the game then they will need help from other teams to get in. For the Bengals, the have been eliminated from playoff contention for the last month and look to play the role of spoiler this weekend. Kickoff inside M&T Bank Stadium has been moved back to 4:25 PM ET.
This will be the 44th time these two teams play each other and the Ravens hold a slight advantage with a 22-21 record. The Ravens are 14-7 all-time at home against the Bengals. However, Cincinnati has won 2 of the last 3 games at M&T Bank Stadium. These two teams played each other in the opening week of the season and Baltimore won that game 20-0.
The Bengals (6-9) are 2-5 on the road and come into this game losing 3 of their last 4 contests. However, they did pull off a big upset on the Lions last weekend that eliminated Detroit from making the playoffs. This weekend, the Bengals would love to even up the all-time series at 22 wins apiece and eliminate the Ravens from making the playoffs.
The Ravens (9-6) have won 2 straight games and come into this matchup with everything on the line. If they win then they’re in. Two weeks ago, this game looked like it would be a cakewalk for the Ravens. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that anymore. With the Bengals winning last weekend, they signaled to the Ravens that they’re not quitting on the season and they are going to play this contest like it’s their Super Bowl.
The spread opened with the Ravens favored by 9.5 points and it has since gone up to 10 points. The Over/Under opened at 40.5 points and has come down to 39.5 total points.
For the last 6 weeks, minus the Steelers loss, the Ravens have been beating up on bad teams. Now, the Bengals are a bad team. In fact, they’re a big disappointment this year. They have too much talent to be finishing the season with a losing record. With that being said, I believe they have enough talent to make this game a tough contest for the Ravens, who don’t inspire confidence in me by beating up on bad teams.
In other words, I’m not confident that Baltimore can win this game. I’m certainly confident in the fact that they won’t win by double digits. The Bengals showed they still have some pride left as they just downed a Lions team that was playing for a playoff spot. The Ravens looked vulnerable in their game last weekend against the Colts and I believe they’re ripe for the picking this weekend.
Despite his bad season, Andy Dalton (3098, 22 TD, 12 Int) still has better numbers than Flacco (2,938, 16 TD, 12 Int). Additionally, Dalton has a better receiving threat than Flacco does. Bengals receiver AJ Green has 1,061 yards receiving and 8 TDs this year. Last weekend, Colts receiver TY Hilton had a big game against the Ravens and I expect Green to have one this weekend. I don’t see Baltimore being able to shut down this all-pro receiver. The Bengals do lack a running game, and if Joe Mixon is out, you can expect the Ravens to drop 7 into coverage and make the Bengals run the ball.
For the Bengals on defense, it all comes down to stopping Baltimore’s running game that averages about 116 ypg. The Bengals allow 128.5 rushing ypg and this could be where the Ravens excel this weekend. But, unlike the Colts and the Browns two weeks ago, the Bengals do have good enough corners to man-up and stack the box to stop the run. So, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco will need a flawless game in order for the Ravens to have success this weekend.
The Bengals are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 games and 6-3 ATS in their last 9 road games. Baltimore is 2-4 ATS in their last 6 home games, 4-8 ATS in their last 12 games as a favorite of 3.5 to 9.5 points, and 5-11 ATS in their last 16 games against teams with a losing record.
I expect the Bengals to treat this game like their Super Bowl and pull out all of the tricks or gadget plays in their playbook and leave everything out on the field as they try to beat the Ravens and prevent them from going to the Playoffs. Now, Cincinnati might fall short of winning the game, but they will cover the double digit spread. Look for the connection of Dalton and AJ Green to give the Ravens trouble all game long. I also expect RB Bernard to do major damage to the Ravens defense by catching passes out of the backfield.
Offensively, I believe the Ravens will move the ball on the ground, but this doesn’t mean they will score touchdowns. I think Tucker will have a big game kicking field goals to keep the Ravens in this one and possibly win it for them. I see this game being a hard fought battle with both defenses getting nasty. Baltimore only allows 18.1 ppg and the Bengals allow 21.5 ppg. In the end, I have to give the edge to the Ravens at home, but it will be a close game as they win 23-20.