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Late for Work 12/29: ESPN Simulation Has Ravens and Bengals Meeting in First Round of Playoffs

NT Broderick Washington

ESPN Simulation Has Ravens and Bengals Meeting in First Round of Playoffs

If ESPN’s Football Power Index’s simulation of the final two weeks of the season proves accurate, the Ravens will enter the playoffs on a two-game losing streak and as the sixth seed in the AFC.

After using the FPI to determine the most likely seed combination in each conference, ESPN Analytics then picked a single simulation that yielded that pure chalk playoff seeding.

The simulation had the Ravens losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 13-10, on Sunday, and the Cincinnati Bengals getting blown out by the Buffalo Bills, 37-9, on Monday night.

That would mean the AFC North champion is decided in Week 18 when the Ravens play at Cincinnati. ESPN projected the Bengals to win that game, 31-25. In this scenario, the Bengals would end up as the third seed in AFC and host the Ravens in the wild-card round.

"In recent weeks, it has felt inevitable that the red-hot Bengals would win this division over the stumbling Ravens. But after both teams lose in Week 17, it comes down to a Week 18 contest," ESPN's Seth Walder wrote. "And with a healthy Lamar Jackson back in the fray, this is no gimme for Cincinnati. Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase and the Cincinnati offense get it done, though, dropping 31 points on the Ravens in a one-score Week 18 contest, giving the Bengals home-field advantage for their postseason rematch a week later."

In this scenario, the Ravens and Bengals would meet in back-to-back weeks, which would add another layer of intrigue.

Hot Defense Makes Ravens Dangerous Team in Postseason

The Athletic's Ted Nguyen noted that getting hot at the right time is the key to postseason success. With that in mind, he identified five units that are getting hot at the right time, and the Ravens defense was among them.

Looking at the AFC playoff picture, a stout defense playing its best football is exactly what the Ravens need if they're going to make a run. Four of the top seven offenses in the league reside in the AFC: the Chiefs, Bills, Jaguars, and Bengals. All four of those teams have either clinched a playoff berth or are in position to do so.

"The Ravens' defense has carried this team while Lamar Jackson has been injured," Nguyen wrote. "If Jackson gets healthy and the Baltimore defense continues to get stops, the Ravens will be a dangerous team in the postseason."

The Ravens defense struggled at times earlier this season, and it's not coincidence that the unit's surge occurred after the midseason trade for Pro Bowler Roquan Smith.

"The Ravens' trade for linebacker Roquan Smith has worked out as well as everyone thought it would," Nguyen wrote. "He was a perfect fit for a team that needed a steadying presence next to Patrick Queen and an enforcer on the second level. Since trading for Smith in Week 9, the Ravens rank second in points allowed per drive, third in defensive EPA per play and third in run defense success rate.

"Smith's ability to read and close against the run is impressive, but his ability to restrict space in the middle of the field against the pass is what makes him so valuable. … Since joining the Ravens in Week 9, Smith ranks second among linebackers in splash plays (29), which TruMedia defines as pressures leading to throwaways, stuffs for no gain, interceptions, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, pass breakups and stops on third down and fourth down."

Is Morgan Moses the Best Value Free Agent of 2022?

On the other side of the ball, the Ravens' running game has been dominant, which is another reason why they'll be a dangerous team in the playoffs.

While General Manager Eric DeCosta's deadline trade for Smith has sparked the defense, his signing of veteran right tackle Morgan Moses in the offseason has played a key role in the success of the ground attack.

Moses has been the Ravens' top-graded player each of the past two games and is the 10th-highest-graded offensive tackle in the league for the season.

Baltimore Beatdown’s Spencer Schultz contends that Moses, who signed a three-year contract worth up to $15 million, might be the best value free agent of 2022.

"Baltimore got themselves a steal in Morgan Moses," Schultz wrote. "The value for Baltimore on the remainder of Moses' contract is outstanding if he's able to maintain any relative level of his current play. His remaining cap hits are $5.6 million in 2023 and $6.9 million in 2024.

"Over the Cap gives Moses a valuation of $13.5 million for 2022 alone. OTC's valuation is 5.2x higher than his cap hit of $2.58 million. In comparison with the rest of the 2022 free agent signings league-wide, there are only a few players in the same realm of value. … Moses has been a godsend for dimes on a dollar."

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