Late for Work 1/1: Ravens Are Unanimous Choice to Defeat Bengals

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TE Mark Andrews

Ravens Are Unanimous Choice to Defeat Bengals

It's come down to this.

A month ago, the Ravens' postseason hopes were in serious jeopardy after a three-game losing streak dropped them to 6-5. Their roster had been ravaged by the biggest COVID-19 outbreak in pro sports and injuries to key players.

The resilient Ravens (10-5) responded with four straight victories and have put themselves in position to clinch an AFC wild-card berth with a win over the Bengals (4-10-1) in Cincinnati on Sunday.

All 45 pundits we looked at believe the Ravens will do exactly that.

As 2021 begins, the 2020 Ravens and reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson are looking like the 2019 versions of themselves, when they were the most dominant team in the league. There's every reason to feel confident the Ravens will take care of business in Cincinnati. Baltimore, which is favored by 12 points, is 41-0 as a double-digit favorite in the regular season.

The Bengals, however, cannot be overlooked despite their record. They upset the Pittsburgh Steelers two weeks ago and won a shootout over the Houston Texans last week. Plus, as noted in yesterday's Late for Work, Cincinnati has won 12 straight and 17 of its past 18 when entering its home finale with a losing record.

*In the same situation three years ago at M&T Bank Stadium, Cincinnati pulled off a shocking upset of the Ravens to keep them out of the playoffs. But pundits do not see that happening again. *

Here's a sample of what the pundits are saying about the game:

The Ravens are peaking at the right time.

ESPN's Marcus Spears: "They've hit another level. They've realized who they are. Ground and pound, allow Lamar Jackson to be the best player on the field, and they're getting healthy on defense. … This defense has a chance to be one of the dominant units as the playoffs come. I'm picking the Baltimore Ravens to win [Sunday], enter the playoffs and make some noise."

Pro Football Talk's Chris Simms: "Just like the Ravens' offense, Baltimore's defense is starting to really peak, too. They've gotten back to where they're pretty healthy on the defensive side of the ball, and I think they're going into Week 17 and into the playoffs playing about as good of football as they can play. I'm going to go with Baltimore to dominate this game."

The Baltimore Sun's C.J. Doon: "The Ravens are simply playing too well right now in all three phases, rising to ninth in overall efficiency after their fourth straight win. Viewed through the lens of expected points added, the Ravens are in the same tier as top contenders such as Buffalo, Green Bay and Kansas City. With a playoff berth at stake, the Ravens won't take the Bengals lightly."

Even though the Bengals have been playing well on offense the past two weeks, their defense won't be able to stop the Ravens.

NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal: "Brandon Allen is a sneaky competent backup quarterback and the Bengals are competing hard. But there's little reason to believe a defense that just gave up 488 yards to the Texans will be able to slow down the Ravens' reformed spread running attack. Lamar Jackson found his mojo just in time to make the AFC playoffs way more interesting."

CBS Sports' Pete Prisco: "The run game continues to power [the Ravens], which will be the case here. The Bengals won't slow down Lamar Jackson. Ravens take it."

The Ravens are clearly the superior team on both sides of the ball.

Fansided's Matt Vederame: "The Ravens typically crush bad teams. That's what happens when you run the ball terrifically and the defense is built to overwhelm poor quarterbacks. This shouldn't be any different."

Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio: "I think the Ravens are that good at this point that even if the Bengals are playing to their full capacity the Ravens still get it done."

With how ferocious the Ravens' pass rush has been the past couple weeks, it could be a long day for Allen.

Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz: "Defensive Coordinator Don 'Wink' Martindale is sending a variety of players streaming toward quarterbacks, making it possible for eight different players to have at least one sack over the past two games. That pressure has helped Baltimore weather injuries to cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith, and it might frighten Cincinnati's offensive coaches. When they blew out the Bengals, 27-3, in October, the Ravens saw a record five different members of their secondary record a sack. If Cincinnati doesn't get its running game going and winds up in passing situations often, Martindale's group could turn Sunday's game into an ugly one."

Table inside Article
Source Team Selected Panelists Score Comments
ESPN
10 of 10 panelists pick Ravens N/A
Baltimore Sun
4 of 4 panelists pick Ravens “The Bengals aren’t quite the pushovers they appeared to be a few weeks back. They actually moved the ball against the Houston Texans and could give the Ravens a few scares. But the Ravens’ ground game is back to full steam, as is their pass rush — bad news for an opponent that struggles to stop the run and protect its quarterback. With a playoff berth on the line, the Ravens will take care of business.” — Childs Walker
USA Today
7 of 7 panelists pick Ravens N/A
NFL.com
Ravens 35, Bengals 21 “Brandon Allen is a sneaky competent backup quarterback and the Bengals are competing hard. But there's little reason to believe a defense that just gave up 488 yards to the Texans will be able to slow down the Ravens' reformed spread running attack.” — Gregg Rosenthal
NFL Network
6 of 6 panelists pick Ravens N/A
Sporting News
Ravens 40, Bengals 14 “The Ravens are back to ‘normal’ with Lamar Jackson and the running game, with more pop in the passing game to boot. The Bengals worked hard to get their wins over the Steelers and Texans, but Baltimore is laser-focused on keeping a playoff berth after its division disappointment.“ — Vinnie Iyer
CBS Sports
7 of 7 panelists pick Ravens “The Ravens are in the playoffs with a victory, and they have been playing well the past few weeks. The run game continues to power this team, which will be the case here. The Bengals won't slow down Lamar Jackson.” — Pete Prisco
Pro Football Talk
2 of 2 panelists pick Ravens “I think the Ravens are that good at this point that even if the Bengals are playing to their full capacity the Ravens still get it done.” — Mike Florio
Sports Illustrated
6 of 6 panelists pick Ravens N/A
Fansided
Ravens 37, Bengals 19 “The Ravens typically crush bad teams. That’s what happens when you run the ball terrifically and the defense is built to overwhelm poor quarterbacks. This shouldn’t be any different.” — Matt Verderame

Loss to Bengals in 2017 Season Finale Played Role in Ravens' Ensuing Success

As much as Ravens fans would like to forget about the team's shocking loss to the Bengals in the 2017 season finale that cost them a playoff berth, it was impossible to ignore this week for obvious reasons. Like this Sunday's game, the 2017 Ravens were heavily favored in a win-and- in scenario against a Bengals team with a losing record.

As heartbreaking as it was to lose to the Bengals on a 49-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-12 only 44 seconds away from the postseason, former Ravens safety Eric Weddle, a member of the 2017 team, said some of the Ravens' success the past three seasons can be attributed to that game.

"Those games bug you, but it was the driving force for us the whole offseason," Weddle told The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec earlier this week. "We got a division championship the next year and that game was one of the main reasons why. It put it all out there for us. It was a low point, but we learned from it and we grew from it and we're stronger from it. Just look at where the organization went from there."

Zrebiec noted that only three of the 18 offensive players to take a snap in that Bengals' loss are on the Ravens' active roster, and only six of the 20 defensive players to see action that day will be on the field Sunday.

"Four months after that abrupt end to the 2017 season, the Ravens drafted Jackson and 10 other players as they began to prepare for life after longtime franchise pillars Joe Flacco and Terrell Suggs," Zrebiec wrote. "Six players the Ravens drafted in 2018 are expected to start in Sunday's game and another, first-round tight end Hayden Hurst, was traded for the draft pick that was used to select the team's current lead running back, rookie J.K. Dobbins.

"Longtime Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees also retired, albeit temporarily, leading to the promotion of Don 'Wink;' Martindale and some alterations to the Ravens' defensive style. When the Ravens got into the same situation the following year, needing a late defensive stand in Week 17 to beat the Cleveland Browns and win the AFC North, Martindale called a cover zero blitz on four consecutive plays. The Ravens got the stop they needed to go to the playoffs."

Reported Deal to Bring Back Jimmy Smith Next Season Is a Win

The Ravens reportedly reaching an agreement with veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith on a one-year extension is yet another example of the team's "right player, right price" mantra.

"By all accounts, $2.5 million is a bargain for a cornerback. It's a downright steal considering Smith's experience and how well he's played this season," Ravens Wire's Matthews Stevens wrote. " … Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta has clearly made it a priority over the last two years to re-sign players early. While this might not have the splash of Ronnie Stanley or Marlon Humphrey, Smith knows the system and coaching staff, and is playing great football. This deal should be considered a win."

Smith, 32, has spent his entire career in Baltimore since being selected by the Ravens in the first round of the 2011 draft.

"A longtime starter who has transitioned into a rotational role, Smith was having one of his better seasons before rib and shoulder injuries sidelined him the past two games," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote. "Pro Football Focus ranked Smith as the NFL's eighth-best cornerback through the first 11 weeks."

With Smith coming back next season along with Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Smith, Tavon Young and Anthony Averett, the Ravens will keep their elite cornerback unit intact.

Smith could play in Sunday's regular-season finale. He practiced yesterday for the first time since suffering his ribs/shoulder injury in Cleveland.

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