The game of football is largely shapeless. The prolate spheroid that is the shape of the actual ball is but one of the many oddities of the sport. Throw in a league of 32 teams with 53 men on each roster and the strangeness is virtually limitless.
Over the years, we as an interested populace have found some comfortable parameters of expectation to work within. Now we can somewhat accurately predict the outcomes of games and seasons.
This game, though, seems to have no handle to grasp. It's the most slippery Bengals game I can remember. How do you call a game like this?
It's strange that the Bengals schedule is encased with Ravens bookends. That Monday Night game was so long ago it seems surreal and nightmarish. Perhaps it was the lateness of the hour or the looseness of the rye, but the whole event is blurry. I remember a deflating ass-kicking followed by waves of panic, but not much detail in general.
The good news is that I don't have to remember it. Things turned around for the Stripes and they're a different team than the one that crapped the bed in the opener. They didn't have Pat Sims then.
The Pat Sims effect is real. He isn't their best player—he's a damn fine run-stuffer—but once he rejoined the ranks, the defense snapped into place and the Zim Clan was once more. Now their back to the bare-knuckle brawling bunch we grew to love last year, led by the most fearsome front four in football. Baltimore faces a much stiffer opponent this time around and may need to think of the health of their quarterback during various stages of the game on Sunday. If Joe Flacco is getting roughed up, he may have an abbreviated outing.
The hard part is knowing the mind-state of these teams. The Bengals have won six out of seven but haven't exactly been blowing the barn doors off lately. The Ravens are pulling out of a nosedive and regained a dose of much-needed confidence with a nice win against the Giants last week. Both teams are going to the playoffs, yet neither want to lose momentum and back into the tournament. Players want to win but they don't want to get hurt. Coaches want to show as little strategy as possible to the following Wild-Card week opponent, yet still look respectable in their duties. It doesn't get weirder.
Marvin Lewis talked earlier in the week about how his young players need the reps more than the rest. A reporter reminded him of how he rested his starters the last two times his team had clinched a postseason birth, and Marv fired back, “Yeah, and how did that go?” This team is too young to know it's place in the league. It doesn't know that it should panic against the good teams. Doesn't know it's not supposed to make the playoffs. Marvin just tells them to do it and they do it.
The Bengals will play hard and probably win. I don't know about Baltimore. They're settling into a new playcaller, have a lot of guys hurt, and seem off kilter. If Cincinnati can contain Ray Rice, they should win. I expect sackos on Flacco and a couple of turnovers. I think BenJarvus Green-Ellis has a good enough game to give everybody confidence in him again, and I think Dalton doesn't have to do too much in the finale.
It would be fitting if the Bengals should have to play Baltimore again the following week to make things even weirder. Who knows where this strange rabbit hole will take us next? In football no one ever knows. Ever.
Bengals 22, Ravens 15
Mojokong—what's the surface area of a prolate spheroid?