A lot has happened since the last time the Bengals and Ravens met on the field.
Most obviously, the entire season – the last matchup (in Cincinnati) was played in Week 1. For those with short memories: the final score of that game was 20-0 in favor of the Ravens. To say that the Bengals lost that game would be the kindest way to describe what unfolded.
Shutouts in the NFL are rare, and thus are usually treated as anomalies – teams can’t be that inefficient every week. With that having been the only game of the Bengals’ season at that point, it was hard to know what to make of it.
Fifteen weeks later, that game has some more context. Through the first 240 games of the season, the NFL has seen nine shutouts. Here’s a schedule:
- Week 1
- Baltimore (20) at Cincinnati (0)
- Week 4
- New Orleans (20) at Miami (0)
- Week 7
- Arizona (0) at Los Angeles Rams (33)
- Jacksonville (27) at Indianapolis (0)
- Denver (0) at Los Angeles Chargers (21)
- Week 8
- Miami (0) at Baltimore (40)
- Week 11
- Baltimore (23) at Green Bay (0)
- Week 14
- New York Jets (0) at Denver (23)
- Week 16
- Minnesota (16) at Green Bay (0)
There’s a number of interesting things to be seen here – just look at that Week 7 slate. Both Los Angeles teams, at home, shutting out opponents in the same week? In their first year cohabiting in the city?
More relevantly, Baltimore was responsible for winning three of those games. Given, the Week 1-2 Bengals, the Dolphins, and Brett Hundley’s Packers were woefully inept offenses. Cincinnati fired Ken Zampese two weeks later. Miami and Green Bay were both shut out twice.
Regardless, what the Ravens did against them is an accomplishment that deserves to be taken seriously. They rank 9th in the NFL in total defense, with the 10th-ranked passing unit and 14th-ranked rushing unit. Their 18.1 points allowed per game ranks 4th, behind only the Vikings, Jaguars, and Chargers. At 9-6 – a game ahead of every other wildcard contender – Baltimore missing the playoffs would require several bad breaks.
Conversely, at 6-9, the Bengals have no route to the postseason and only stand to gain a 7-9 record. By all accounts (except for that of the head coach himself), Marvin Lewis will find another job after Sunday’s game. With nothing else standing between the team and the upcoming offseason, fans have little reason to mentally linger in 2017. With the game also falling on New Year’s Eve, they won’t have a shortage of other football content to consume.
As for what the Bengals have to prove? 7-9 and 6-10 is a semantic difference, but not getting shut out again would be nice. That’s no way to (presumably) end Lewis’ fifteen-year tenure.
OUT: OT Cedric Ogbuehi
QUESTIONABLE: LB Vontaze Burfict, CB William Jackson III, HB Joe Mixon
Also listed: HB Giovani Bernard, CB Darqueze Dennard, WR Alex Erickson, LB Jordan Evans, FB Ryan Hewitt, S Shawn Williams
DOUBTFUL: WR Jeremy Maclin
QUESTIONABLE: G Jermaine Eluemunor, OT Austin Howard, NT Patrick Ricard, WR Mike Wallace, DT Brandon Williams
Also listed: LB Terrell Suggs
OddsShark Predicted Score: Baltimore 34.0, Cincinnati 9.2
Spread Consensus: Baltimore -9.5
Clearly, Vegas doesn’t have a lot of faith in the Bengals in this one. That’s fair, but 34.0 to 9.2? Maybe the Ravens just have fans in low places.
In all seriousness though, there’s plenty of reason to favor Baltimore in this one. They’ve won the matchup at home in four of the last six games, dating back to 2011. In the two years the Bengals won, they made the playoffs with records of 10-5-1 and 12-4. This iteration of the Bengals resembles neither of those teams, insofar as on-field success.
From the Ravens side, they swept the series the last time they beat the Bengals in Cincinnati – back in 2011. Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton completed 22 of 44 passes for 232 yards, with no touchdowns but without an interception either. Rookie receiver A.J. Green finished fourth on the team in both receptions and yards, behind Jermaine Gresham, Jerome Simpson, and Andrew Hawkins.
This is to say that the game happened a while ago. Nothing about the Ravens winning in 2011 will help them win again on Sunday, but the methods should be similar. In the Ravens’ two victories that season, they won with a dominant ground game and controlled, low-volume passing attack. Ray Rice combined for 295 yards and 4 touchdowns on 44 carries. Joe Flacco combined to go 32-46 for 400 yards, 3 touchdowns and a pick. Of those totals, Torrey Smith accounted for 11 catches, 198 yards and a touchdown. Aside from one 35-yard touchdown catch by Anquan Boldin, no other wide receiver was involved. The defense, meanwhile, held the Bengals to 40 points over both games.
All of that has been the Ravens’ M.O. over the years. It was their M.O. at their 2013 Super Bowl height, and it was when they’ve excelled this season. It was their attempted M.O. when they crushed the Bengals in Week 1 of this season. Joe Flacco, coming off a relatively recent shoulder surgery, completed 9 of 17 passes. Of the four that went to wide receivers, only one (busted coverage against Jeremy Maclin) went over 10 yards. On the ground Terrance West and Buck Allen combined for 151 yards on 40 carries. Respectable performances from both, but a neither would’ve been mistaken for Rice.
While the Ravens didn’t sign Rice since Week 1, they appear to have settled on a primary back in Alex Collins. A fifth-round pick of Seattle in 2016, Collins joined the practice squad alongside Jeremy Langford after final preseason cuts. Collins hasn’t set the NFL on fire, with 1,064 scrimmage yards on 213 touches, but he’s kept the metaphorical gears of the Ravens’ offense turning. With the injuries the Ravens’ line has faced – specifically losing Marshal Yanda – he’s met the bar for individual performance. With Danny Woodhead playing again after tearing his hamstring in the Week 1 matchup, the Ravens’ backfield has improved.
Does that make them a good matchup against the Bengals’ front seven? That depends a lot on the activity of Vontaze Burfict – who has no incentive to play if not at full health. Other key matchups seem less variable – Clint Boling gave up three sacks at left tackle last week replacing Cedric Ogbuehi. The Lions have one great pass rusher in Ezekiel Ansah; the Ravens have several good ones led by Terrell Suggs. William Jackson, if healthy, is more than a match for any receiver Baltimore currently fields. A.J. Green, against a secondary that lost Jimmy Smith earlier in the season, is favorable.
At the end of the day, most of the key matchups favor the Ravens. 34.0 to 9.2 is a bit much, but them not winning would be a surprise. There’s a reason the Ravens are all but in the playoffs and the Bengals are 6-9, after all.
Bengals 13, Ravens 23