The Cincinnati Bengals will look to wrap up a memorable 2015 regular season this Sunday when the Baltimore Ravens come to Paul Brown Stadium.
This will be a battle of two backup-led teams as Baltimore is down to Ryan Mallett as their starting quarterback, whereas Cincy is rolling with AJ McCarron again. Both signal-callers showed promise during their games last week, and they'll both look to end the regular season on high notes for varying reasons.
Mallett and the Ravens are just looking to get some momentum and a winning streak going into the offseason after enduring a 5-10 season to this point. Mallett is filling in for the injured Joe Flacco while also looking to lock-up the backup quarterback job for next season.
As for McCarron, he's looking to continue his growth as a starting quarterback after showing a lot of promise in the role thus far. In two career starts, McCarron has completed 37 of 56 passes (66.1 percent) for 392 yards with two touchdowns and no picks (98.2 passer rating). While his record is just 1-1, both starts came on the road, including last Monday's narrow loss in Denver.
Unfortunately, that gave the Broncos a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Bengals for the AFC's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. Now, Cincinnati must win this week and have Denver lose to 4-11 San Diego in order to regain that No. 2 seed and a much-needed bye week.
There is also an scenario in which the Bengals can lose and still get the No. 2 seed, but only if the Broncos lose to the Chargers and the Chiefs win at home vs the Oakland Raiders. Neither scenario is likely to happen.
The guys at Football Outsiders have the Bengals with an 80.7 percent chance to be the No. 3 seed and 19.3 percent odds to earn a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed. They also give the Bengals a 25.3-percent chance of making the AFC Championship and a 10.9-percent chance of winning it and earning a Super Bowl berth.
Those are far from insurmountable odds, but they're certainly indicative of how big of a playoff underdog the Bengals are when it comes to making it to the big game. A win this week may increase those odds, especially if Denver loses and Cincy ends up with a first-round bye.
As it stands, the oddsmakers view the Bengals as a heavy favorite this week. Odds Shark has the Bengals pegged as a 9.5-point favorite this week which makes sense given Baltimore has lost four straight and five of six to the Bengals. Here are some of the recent betting trends for both teams:
- Cincinnati is 5-1 ATS in its last 6 games
- Cincinnati is 11-4 SU in its last 15 games
- The total has gone UNDER in 4 of Cincinnati's last 5 games
- Cincinnati is 17-6-2 ATS in its last 25 games at home
- Cincinnati is 19-5-1 SU in its last 25 games at home
- Cincinnati is 5-1 ATS in its last 6 games when playing Baltimore
- Cincinnati is 5-1 SU in its last 6 games when playing Baltimore
- The total has gone OVER in 6 of Cincinnati's last 9 games when playing Baltimore
- Cincinnati is 5-1 ATS in its last 6 games when playing at home against Baltimore
- Baltimore is 4-9-2 ATS in its last 15 games
- Baltimore is 5-11 SU in its last 16 games
- The total has gone UNDER in 5 of Baltimore's last 7 games
- Baltimore is 2-6 SU in its last 8 games on the road
As for how the experts see this game playing out, most see the home team coming out on top. NFL.com's Elliot Harrison thinks this will be a close game that the Bengals ultimately come out victorious in.
Key matchup: Which young, inexperienced quarterback will blink first? Cincinnati's AJ McCarron fared admirably Monday night, especially considering he was facing the Broncos' No. 1-ranked defense at their place. Can Ryan Mallett put on a clinic on the road against the Bengals' D?
Playoff implications: The Bengals can earn a first-round bye with a win over the Ravens and a Broncos loss to the Chargers. That is huge, considering that's something they've never secured in the Marvin Lewis era. All six of Lewis' previous playoff appearances with Cincinnati have ended in wild-card round defeats.
Sports Illustrated's Don Banks also sees the Bengals pulling off a one-score win, 24-17, over the Ravens.
I was pretty impressed with A.J. McCarron’s game in the cold at Denver on Monday night, at least until he let that shotgun snap sail past him in overtime. The kid’s got some presence to him, and some teams might view him as potential starting material after his showing in this late-season trial run in Cincinnati. Besides still having a slim shot at a first-round bye—if the Chargers can upset the Broncos on the road—the Bengals have every reason to go all out to beat the Ravens and finish 12–4. That would tie the franchise record for wins in a season and, most importantly, trigger some very good karma. The two other times Cincinnati has finished 12–4, it went to the Super Bowl, in 1981 and 1988, losing to San Francisco in both games. The 49ers won’t be making it back to the big game, but the Super Bowl is being played in their stadium, so there’s that for symmetry.
Yahoo Sports' Frank Schwab thinks Baltimore won't be able to match the level of intensity and effort they have last week in their big upset over Pittsburgh, which helps Cincinnati pull off a win.
Very simply, I think the Ravens played their Super Bowl last week. They wanted to beat the Steelers to mess with their playoff chances, and they did that. The Bengals can still get a first-round bye, but they need help.
Here's a look at how all of the national experts are picking this game:
- Seven of eight experts at SB Nation are going with the Bengals.
- The Bengals received nine picks at ESPN as of Saturday morning with two picks yet to be made.
- All eight Fox Sports pickers went with Cincy.
- Seven of eight CBS Sports pickers are siding with the Bengals.
- NFL Pick Watch, which keeps track of every expert pick, has the Bengals getting 92-percent of the picks this week.
It's safe to say the Bengals are the clear favorite here, enough so that it would be a big upset if Cincinnati lost their home finale. Based on all of the picks this week from NFL Picks Watch, the Bengals are just the fifth-biggest favorite this week. Still, seeing a team upset their division rival in the final game of their season wouldn't be unheard of, so Cincinnati must be prepared for a battle with a Baltimore club playing with nothing to lose.