This one is tough to call. Who will play and for how long?
If it's all the starters all the time, then the Bengals win with little difficulty. The Ravens have been shoddy offensively for three or four weeks and Cincinnati has been straight up dominant at home this season. Joe Flacco's knee hurts, Art Jones hasn't practiced all week, and John Harbaugh simply will not stop complaining about everything under the sun.
This Baltimore team hasn't risen up to its Super Bowl self of last year. Their run game is in the toilet, their passing targets are limited and Flacco seems extra turnover prone at the moment. There was a lot of chest-thumping on their behalf once they outkicked the Lions in a field goal contest, but what was lost in the hoopla surrounding a 61-yard game-winning field goal was the fact that Baltimore couldn't score a touchdown.
The Ravens want to go deep as much as possible. They have fast receivers, and Flacco can hurl it downfield with the best of them, but the vertical passing focus can be quite a hindrance when a team is forced to rely on it. It becomes easy to defend. The 2010 Bengals became junkies of the deep pass and it cost them win after win after win. The 2013 Ravens haven't quite imploded the way Carson Palmer did in his last season in Cincinnati, but they are unable to gain moderate chunks of yardage once the opposing defense takes away anything deep and they quickly fall apart. Mike Zimmer teaches his men to drop deep and allow underneath catches, then rally to the ball carrier for short gains. Against some west-coast offenses, this approach can be problematic because they are able to patiently move the ball by nickel and diming the Bengals, but Baltimore wants the quick strike and they want it now.
If it comes down to preseason football where Tyrod Taylor takes on Josh Johnson for three quarters, your guess is as good as mine as to who wins. If it matters, I think the Bengals have some of the best backups in the league, so I guess I like their chances in a Backup Bowl too, but once football gets silly in this way, predictions go out the window.
This begs the question: why would Marvin not play his starters with a first-round bye at hand? I can't answer this. Maybe he will. But think of it this way, if you play your starters and the Bills are unable to win in New England, have you sacrificed a fresher team for a remote chance at a better seeding? Marvin Lewis typically plays it safe. That's why I don't think Andy Dalton plays all 60 minutes tomorrow.
If I were the Bengals, I would hand the ball to BenJarvus Green-Ellis 40 times and throw sparingly. The Law Firm can take the pounding and it would cut down on the wear to the more dynamic playmakers on the team. If the defense can hang in there, it could be a 14-12 kind of game where the Bengals win and still not tax anybody too much outside of Benny.
Chances are though, while the starters are in there, they will go about their offense as usual. Home games this season have been point explosions with lots and lots of touchdowns. If that continues Sunday, the Ravens don't stand a chance. Honestly, no one does.
Yet the good times can't last forever. Eventually a team will rise to the challenge and make it tough on the Stripes in the Jungle. I don't think it will be this week, Baltimore simply isn't that good. Nor do I think it will be the week after. All the wildcard contenders are beatable-especially Miami. That would effectively end the home games for Cincinnati with a perfect record. The road, though, is nasty in January, and plenty of problems are likely to crop up at that point, but for now, we will enjoy what we're given and that's playoff-caliber football from our favorite team. I am proud of these Bengals. Who dey!
Bengals 31, Ravens 20
Mojokong-sick with it.