Can the Bengals play spoiler to the Ravens' playoff hopes on Sunday?
These two teams played back in Week 5, an easy 27-3 victory for the Ravens, who held the Bengals to 205 yards and forced three turnovers. Lamar Jackson's arm produced two passing touchdowns while his legs accounted for just three rushing yards on two rushes. Meanwhile, Joe Burrow was sacked seven times adding to one interception in the loss.
Baltimore showed more of that defensive strength in a workmanlike home victory over the Giants 27-13 last week. The Ravens now have won four straight since losing four of five contests. They constantly harassed Daniel Jones, who was sacked six times and consistently made uncomfortable in the pocket. They racked up over 400 yards of offense including 249 on the ground courtesy of J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Jackson. Mark Andrews led the way in receptions as usual, and everything felt good about the offense.
The win put the Ravens, who were 6-5 at the start of December, on the precipice of the playoffs. Ending the season against a four-win team they already beat is a good place to be, but even if they lose, they can still make the postseason if either of the Browns and Colts lose. A tie would also work if either of those two teams tie or lose, or if either the Titans or Browns lose.
The Bengals, meanwhile, have won two straight and scored a combined 64 points on the Steelers and Texans in the process. They put up 540 yards in a win over Houston on the road last week, 371 of which from Brandon Allen through the air, with Samaje Perine leading the way out of the backfield. The defense wasn't great, giving up nearly 500 yards themselves, but they did force a crucial turnover and made the stops when they had to.
Baltimore at Cincinnati
Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 3 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Ravens -13
Three Things to Watch
The biggest intangible regarding the Ravens is how long will Lamar Jackson play. Spoiler alert... I think the Ravens are going to win, and if it's a big enough margin, the reigning MVP is going to sit and give way to the backup. With such an easy playoff scenario, they don't have to look over their shoulder for help. It's just the team's third road game over the last month or so. Meanwhile, the Bengals have shown that a winning culture matters more than draft pick status with their recent win streak. This is their fourth home contest over the last six weeks, and I'm sure they'll relish playing the spoiler.
2. Run, run, run away
Edwards has put up 354 yards and two touchdowns in the team's last four games and is the perfect partner for Dobbins in the backfield. Mark Ingram II has been inactive the last few weeks as the team realized the vet wasn't the answer. Edwards, meanwhile, is a solid receiver as well and racked up career-bests in receiving yards in consecutive weeks on top of his 15 carries against the Giants. Dobbins is averaging 5.3 yards per carry, which is a huge help in taking pressure off Jackson from having to do everything himself.
Cincinnati's run defense is highly exploitable so we'll see how much success Baltimore has. Their 130.9 yards allowed per game are eighth-worst in the league, and their 4.8 yards allowed per carry rank 29th overall. One silver lining is the Bengals have held opponents to 110 yards or fewer in three of their last four games.
3. Building to 2021
Obviously, Brandon Allen isn't going to start for Cincy in 2021 with Burrow in town, but the team can either deal him for a draft pick or they can keep him and have a solid backup. The former Arkansas QB has completed 69.4 percent of his passes with five touchdowns to just two interceptions on the season. If he can find any sort of success against Baltimore then that would be big for his future.
Perine was cast away from Washington a few years ago and has performed adequately for Cincy. Trayveon Williams has also helped out when he's gotten consistent carries so it could be a crowded running back room for the Bengals next year when Joe Mixon returns. Anything positive these players can put down on tape will be beneficial for their future careers. Giovani Bernard is set to make $4.76 million next season, but only $666,000 of that is guaranteed, so the Bengals could save some cap space if they like their other backups.
No spoiler here as the Bengals come back down to earth and Lamar Jackson gets a seat on the bench in the second half. Baltimore is going to be that wild-card team no one wants to face next week.
Prediction: Ravens 31, Bengals 13
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.