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.
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."
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."
|ESPN||6 of 9 panelists pick Bengals||NA|
|Baltimore Sun||Ravens 24, Bengals 20||“The Ravens are close to must-win territory, and they’ll go into this high-stakes matchup with major questions about which starters are even available. We have seen them compete with Tyler Huntley at quarterback, but he cannot help their tattered secondary defend against Joe Burrow and a deep wide receiver corps. Cincinnati’s defense, meanwhile, gave the Ravens fits in Baltimore. If the Ravens had anything close to a healthy roster, they would be the better team. But they don’t.” — Childs Walker|
|USA Today||6 of 7 panelists pick Ravens||NA|
|NFL.com||Ravens 23, Bengals 20||“Choosing the Ravens at this stage of the season is not about what's logical or who's available. 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.” — Gregg Rosenthal|
|NFL Network||6 of 10 panelists pick Bengals||NA|
|Sporting News||Bengals 31, Ravens 27||“The Ravens' defense can't stop much of anything in the passing game anymore with all the injuries and Joe Burrow will light them up all over the field for a second time. The Ravens will do their best with whoever's running and passing to stay competitive, but they are outmatched.” — Vinnie Iyer|
|CBS Sports||8 of 8 panelists pick Bengals||“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.” — Pete Prisco|
|Pro Football Talk||2 of 3 panelists pick Bengals||“The AFC North is wide open and the winner of this one is the clear favorite. I’ll say the Bengals escape in a close one.” — Michael David Smith|
|Sports Illustrated||3 of 5 panelists pick Bengals||NA|
|FanSided||Bengals 34, Ravens 30||“Huge, huge AFC North battle. The Bengals won 41-17 in their first matchup with the Ravens. This will be much closer, but how does Baltimore slow down Cincinnati’s passing attack?” — Matt Vederame|
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.