Majority of Pundits Pick Bengals to Beat Ravens
When the Ravens hosted the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 7, they were riding a five-game winning streak and coming off a dominant win over a good Los Angeles Chargers team.
As we all know, the Bengals brought the high-flying Ravens back to earth, 41-17.
Heading into Sunday’s AFC North showdown with Cincinnati (8-6), the Ravens (8-6) are on a three-game losing streak, their defense has been decimated by COVID-19 and injuries, and Lamar Jackson hasn’t practiced since suffering an ankle injury in Cleveland on Dec. 5.
With the Ravens’ playoff hopes trending down, the resilience of the NFL’s most resilient team this season will be tested yet again.
For the Ravens, Sunday's game at the Bengals is a must-win, in terms of capturing the AFC North.
With a victory, the Ravens have a 67% chance of winning the AFC North, according to ESPN's Football Power Index.
A loss drops their chances of winning the AFC North to 8.5%.
Everything points to the significantly healthier Bengals prevailing, and a majority of pundits we looked at (29 of 46) are picking them. It’s a testament to the Ravens’ toughness and tenacity that the picks aren’t even more lopsided in Cincinnati’s favor.
“Choosing the Ravens at this stage of the season is not about what’s logical or who’s available,” NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal wrote. “They are a weekly reminder of what they are not, barely able to field a legitimate roster lately, and yet they are still there late in every game, ready to break hearts again. The Ravens lost to the Bengals 41-17 when they were relatively healthy, so of course they’ll win this rematch to stop the bleeding because it’s 2021.”
Here’s a sample of what the pundits are saying about the game:
The Bengals are the better team at this point in the season.
The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec: “I think the Bengals will handle the Ravens. I’m not sure who will and won’t be playing for the Ravens at the moment, but I do know they are going to be without a good chunk of their starting secondary and that likely means that they’re going to have an awfully hard time limiting Joe Burrow and his cadre of weapons. … I just don’t think the Ravens are healthy enough to win a big game on the road at this stage of the season.”
The Bengals’ explosive passing game will exploit a depleted Ravens secondary.
CBS Sports’ John Breech: “In the first meeting, Joe Burrow threw for more than 400 yards and he did that even though the Ravens had their star cornerback, Marlon Humphrey, on the field. This time around, they won’t have Humphrey and they could also be missing several other key starters, which makes it tough to imagine a situation where they slow down the Bengals offense. The Ravens defensive situation was so dire in Week 15 that even the wife of the team’s general manager could do nothing but make a joke about it and a pretty good joke at that.”
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CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco: “The Bengals dominated in beating the Ravens in Baltimore earlier this year, with Joe Burrow having a big day. With the Ravens secondary an issue, I think he has another big day here.”
The Ravens’ defense needs to create turnovers.
PressBox’s Bo Smolka: “Nothing helps the offense more than a sudden-change play by the defense, but those have been too infrequent this season. The Ravens’ turnover ratio of minus-9 ranks 29th in the league, and they went five games without an interception. Their total of six interceptions is tied for second-fewest in the league. The Ravens did intercept Burrow in the previous meeting (by Marlon Humphrey), and they scored a defensive touchdown against Burrow last year when his former LSU teammate, Patrick Queen, returned a fumble 53 yards for a score.”
The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Kelsey Conway: “Simply put, when the Bengals don’t turn the ball over, they usually win. Since the bye week, Burrow has cut down on his interceptions. It’s been a concerted effort on his part to ensure he’s not giving the ball away at the rate he was early this season. The Bengals’ best games have been when they play clean football on offense.”
The Ravens need to do a better job protecting their quarterback than they did in the first game against the Bengals.
Russell Street Report’s James Ogden: “Lamar Jackson was sacked five times and hit seven times by a rampant Bengals pass rush. The Ravens’ pass protection has undoubtedly gotten better since this game, but both [Trey] Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard proved a handful, while Larry Ogunjobi was a terror inside. … The matchup the Ravens will be most concerned about will be [left tackle Alejandro] Villanueva once again going up against Hendrickson. Hendrickson already has 13 sacks on the year and 22 quarterback hits. He has a unique blend of size, athleticism and power that you look for in an edge-rusher, but most crucially for his matchup with Villanueva, he’s a master of converting speed to power. He did this numerous times to Villanueva in the first matchup and he could certainly do it again, despite Villanueva’s improvement in pass protection recently.”
The Ravens need to spread the ball around more in the passing game.
NFL analyst Brian Baldinger: “Mark Andrews is having a Pro Bowl season again, but they force the ball to Mark Andrews too many times. The last six interceptions that Lamar Jackson has thrown, all the passes have been to Mark Andrews. So I would say start spreading the ball around. I know Mark Andrews is a great player. I know he can score touchdowns, finish drives, great in the red zone. But you can’t keep forcing it to him. Cincinnati knows it’s going to him. Be careful.”
The Ravens will defy the odds and pulloffthe upset.
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio: “In some games, desperation makes all the difference. This is one of those games. Whether it’s Lamar Jackson or Tyler Huntley, the Ravens find a way to get it done.”
Bleacher Report’s Brad Gagnon: “Baltimore hasn’t lost four in a row since 2016. This team is too talented, experienced and well coached to let that happen with its season on the line here, and I still don’t trust a Bengals team that has been outscored 77-60 in the month of December.”
Sports Illustrated’s Todd Karpovich: “This week’s matchup should be much closer than that first game in Baltimore. The Ravens are ravaged with injuries and they continue to fight. The Bengals enter this game relatively healthy. Still, the Ravens will find a way to pull this one out.”
NFL Analytics Expert: Ravens Have One of Toughest Paths to Playoffs Among Realistic Contenders
Head Coach John Harbaugh won’t label Sunday’s game as a must-win, but NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund does.
Frelund named the Ravens one of five contenders (teams that have at least a 20 percent chance of making the playoffs) with the most difficult paths to the postseason based on 300,000 simulations of each game left in the season entering Week 16.
“The Ravens win Sunday’s matchup in Cincinnati in just 45% of simulations, and that number is even lower next week against the Rams,” Frelund wrote. “To stay alive in the fiercely competitive AFC playoff race, which would include recapturing the AFC North lead, Baltimore essentially has to win this weekend.”
Frelund said connecting on big plays is the key to getting the Ravens back on the winning track.
“Jackson completed 56.3% of his passes of 10-plus air yards from Weeks 1-7, generating seven TDs against three INTs as the Ravens sprinted out to a 5-2 start,” Frelund wrote. “However, in the five games Lamar’s started since the team’s Week 8 bye, his percentage has fallen to 38.3, while his TD-to-INT ratio has worsened to 5:4. Baltimore won just two of those matchups.”
The Browns and Bengals also made Frelund’s list.
Which Ravens Were Snubbed From the Pro Bowl?
Five Ravens were named to the Pro Bowl this week, the lowest number of selections they’ve had since 2018. Ravens Wire’s Kevin Oestreicher identified four Ravens who were snubbed:
WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown
“Brown has been having the best season of his career, catching 80 passes for 909 yards and six touchdowns in 2021 so far. He’s become a very well-rounded player that defenses have to account for on all levels.”
C Bradley Bozeman
“Bozeman has established himself as one of the better centers in the NFL. However, the impressive part is that this is his first year playing the position as a professional.”
OG Kevin Zeitler
“Zeitler’s first season in Baltimore has been a success. Entering Week 15, the veteran had allowed zero sacks and zero quarterback hits in 558 pass blocking snaps, proving that he still has plenty left in the tank.”
ILB Patrick Queen
“After having a rough start to the campaign, the second-year linebacker has bounced back in a big way. He leads the Ravens’ defense with 83 total tackles, and also has accumulated two sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.”
Defensive lineman Calais Campbell leads Baltimore’s Pro Bowl snubs.
DL Calais Campbell
Veteran Calais Campbell had gone to four straight Pro Bowls and six over his career. He’s had one of his strongest campaigns in recent years this season. According to Pro Football Focus’ grades, Campbell has been the fifth-best interior defensive lineman in the NFL and trails only Pittsburgh’s Cameron Heyward and Kansas City’s Chris Jones in the AFC. Both of those guys are going to the Pro Bowl, but the Colts’ DeForest Buckner beat out Campbell. Buckner does have 6.5 sacks and 55 tackles to Campbell’s 1.5 sacks and 39 tackles.
WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown
Brown made a major push to be the Ravens’ first wide receiver Pro Bowler (others have gone as specialists). He was among the AFC leaders in receiving yards midway through the season, but the Ravens’ offensive funk has limited him in recent weeks. Seven AFC receivers have more receiving yards than Brown’s 909, but only four receivers have more touchdowns than Brown’s six.
The AFC’s four Pro Bowl wide receivers are the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill, Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase, Bills’ Stefon Diggs and Chargers’ Keenan Allen.
LB Patrick Queen
Queen had an up-and-down start to the season, but there haven’t been many more impactful inside linebackers than Queen over the past couple months. Queen’s nine tackles for loss are tied for the third-most among AFC inside linebackers and he’s a major reason why the Ravens have the top-ranked rush defense in the league.
The AFC”s Pro Bowl inside linebackers are the Colts’ Darius Leonard and Raiders’ Denzel Perryman.
G Kevin Zeitler
The 10-year veteran is having his finest season yet in his first year as a Raven. He hasn’t allowed a single sack or hit this season in 558 pass blocking snaps. No other player with at least 250 pass blocking snaps have blanked their opponents in both categories. Zeitler has also helped pave the way for the league’s third-ranked rushing attack despite having several right tackles playing beside him.
C Bradley Bozeman
Bozeman has been very reliable in his first year as a starting center. He has steadied an offensive line that has dealt with a multitude of injuries and still paved the way for one of the league’s top rushing attacks. Bozeman has surrendered three sacks and two quarterback hits, per Pro Football Focus.
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Two-Minute Drill: @AdamBMore with a grinch of a Ravens-Bengals prediction, and some words for those who try to have it both ways when it comes to supporting the Ravens' aggressive ways. #RavensFlockhttps://t.co/cRSlPJQS6n
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See who the experts are picking to win the Week 16 rematch between the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals.
Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson hasn’t practiced since suffering his ankle injury on Dec. 5. Tyler Huntley is preparing to start.
Baltimore’s run defense has remained No.1 despite injuries. Getting Patrick Mekari back would be huge for the offensive line. Ravens want to improve their two-point conversion efficiency.
Ravens tight end Josh Oliver has joined the group of players on the Reserve-COVID-19 list. Practice squad quarterback Chris Streveler has also been placed on the list.
The Baltimore Ravens have just 15 defensive players on their current 53-man roster and three are dealing with injuries.
The game will be broadcast on CBS and kick off at 1 p.m. from Paul Brown Stadium.
The Ravens will wear their white jersey and black pants, which they have gone 1-1 in so far this season.
The Ravens could lean more heavily on their world-class kicker in overtime, but Justin Tucker says anybody in the arena knows the right move is to go for two to win (or lose) the game.
With three straight losses, the Ravens (8-6) have dropped to the middle of the pack in the major power rankings.
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