For Baltimore, the season rests on finding a way to beat the Bengals. At 3-5, the Ravens can not afford another loss at this point in the schedule. As it stands, Baltimore is 1.5 games out of the last wild card spot in the AFC but has a bevy of teams to jump over, including the San Diego Chargers, Cleveland Browns, Tennessee Titans, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.
On the other side, the Bengals are trying to bounce back after losing last Thursday night to the Dolphins in overtime. Cincinnati is still sitting pretty, currently in the No. 4 seed with a 6-3 record, but can not afford to slip much with Cleveland nipping at its heels. While this game is more important to the Ravens, it would be a tough pill to swallow for the Bengals should they lose.
Meet the Bengals
Cincinnati is enjoying a breakout season for Andy Dalton. Many question if the redhead from TCU can get the job done, but the numbers speak for themselves. In his first two seasons, Dalton led the Bengals to the playoffs both times and has thrown for 2,587 yards and 16 touchdowns this year, ranking him fourth and fifth respectively.
Of course, Dalton's biggest playmaker is wide receiver A.J. Green. The former University of Georgia star can be unstoppable at times, amassing 57 catches, 862 yards and five touchdowns through nine games. Marvin Jones has also emerged as a threat on the outside, totaling 28 receptions for 435 yards.
Still, the strength of this team is its defense. Carlos Dunlap is having a nice year with four sacks, and Vontaze Burfict has patrolled the middle of the field with great ability, making a team-leading 90 tackles. This team will sorely miss defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who is the best at his position in football. Atkins had six sacks before tearing his ACL in Miami.
Meet the Ravens
Joe Flacco got paid this offseason to the tune of $20 million per year, and has not lived up to the contract. In fairness, the team traded away his favorite receiver in Anquan Boldin and the offensive line has allowed 25 sacks. Flacco has only completed 59.4 percent of his attempts and thrown just 10 touchdowns against nine interceptions.
Perhaps an even bigger problem though has been the usage of Ray Rice. One of the best backs in the league over the past five season, Rice has only 259 yards rushing and a brutal 2.7 yards per carry. Part of the problem might be that Rice has only gotten more than 15 carries once in a game, keeping him from getting a rhythm.
Defensively, Terrell Suggs is once again putting together a Pro Bowl campaign with nine sacks. On the other side of the field, newly-acquired Elvis Dumervil is also doing his part with 5.5 sacks. Overall, Baltimore ranks 10th in yards allowed per game at 339.5 and gives up only 21.5, also 10th.
Local take: Cincinnati
Josh Kirkendall of Cincy Jungle writes about the Bengals' offensive production:
For as much criticism that Cincinnati's offense has received this year, this has to be one of Jay Gruden's greatest successes in only his third season as the team's offensive coordinator. Through nine games, the offense is averaging 380.2 yards per game and if they continue that pace, they'll surpass 6,000 yards this season.
It'll be the first time that they've reached the 6,000 yard milestone since 1989.
Local take: Baltimore
Over at Baltimore Beatdown, Kris Jones has seen enough of run-game coordinator Juan Castillo:
Simply based off of principle, Castillo should be fired. Harbaugh shouldn't wait until the end of the season either. This is something that can serve as an inspiration message to the team and the fan base who are suddenly stuck with tickets to five more home games with their team facing a major uphill battle to even crack a wild card berth in the playoffs.
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Baltimore is fighting for its life, but the Bengals are simply a better team at this point. It is hard to see Cincinnati losing two games in a row where it is the best team on the field, despite the desperation and pride of the Ravens. It certainly would not be a shock if Baltimore were able to get it done, but the Bengals are the pick thanks to a ton of offensive weapons and a tough defense.
Pick: Cincinnati 23, Baltimore 17
The game is a pick 'em with an over/under of 44.5, according to Oddsshark.com.
The Bengals host Cleveland while Baltimore travels to take on the Chicago Bears.