Baltimore Ravens (5-10 SU, 4-9-2 ATS) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (11-4 SU, 12-2-1 ATS)
NFL Week 17
Date/Time: Sunday, January 3, 2016 at 1PM EST
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
By Scott, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: BAL +9/CIN -9
Over/Under Total: 41.5
On Sunday in week 17 AFC North action, the Pittsburgh Steelers come to Paul Brown Stadium to face the Cincinnati Bengals. For Baltimore, the stakes are smaller, but they can again play the role of spoiler a week after putting a major crimp into the chances of the Steelers with an upset win last week. For the Bengals, a loss last Monday cost them big in terms of their playoff placement. They are in, but now must win and hope Denver loses if they want a first-round bye. They could also lose, but Denver and KC would need to also lose. Their best chance is to win and hope for the best.
Barring any unexpected developments, the MNF loss to the Broncos in overtime was costly, taking away Cincinnatis ability to control their own destiny as far as playoff placement is concerned. The Bengals already beat the Ravens this season, with a week 3 win in Baltimore. Cincinnati got a late TD from Dalton to AJ Green in order to notch the win. Neither starting quarterback from that game will be in action this Sunday. And for Baltimore, the offense is almost a completely different set of players, following a slew of costly injuries.
The Bengals quarterback situation got a bit stickier on Monday. Backup AJ McCarron, who has done a good job with Dalton out, was hurt on the final play of the game. An MRI revealed a sprained wrist and he will presumably play on Sunday. How much it will impact the game, however, remains to be seen. Its already bad enough that the Bengals are without Andy Dalton, but a compromised McCarron could make it hard moving forward for Cincy.
Maybe the Bengals can find a way to make it work. Its hard to not notice how the team has run somewhat smoothly in Daltons absence. They are not a team that is ultimately dependent on QB play. They have other things upon which they can relya good running game, along with a stout and difference-making defense. Giovani Bernard has been one of the most versatile backs in the league this year and Jeremy Hill has added 11 touchdowns out of the backfield. It would really help McCarron if Tyler Eifert could find his way back into the lineup sooner than later, as he is listed as questionable. Green is still an ultra-dependable receiver, with Marvin Jones a very suitable number-two guy. There are enough difference-makers on this side of the ball to help McCarron as he continues to get his feet wet. While no one associates the Bengals with a good offense necessarily, they are 4th in scoring this season.
Cincinnatis defense is really good and no team has given up fewer points this season than this unit. They are not impossible to exploit, as opponents can put up yards at times with this group. But this is a defense that tightens up as the urgency of a situation rises. They are exceedingly clutch. They have playmakers like Carlos Dunlap, who is near the league-lead in sacks with 13.5, leading a nice Bengals pass-rush. Reggie Nelson leads the league in interceptions. Only four times in their last nine games has an opponent eclipsed ten points in scoring. This is an integral part of the team moving forward.
Its not easy for one to sugar-coat a Ravens season that never really got untracked. By the same token, not a lot of teams would have done much better when losing virtually every pertinent offensive player, while not seeming to ever catch a good break. And by still showing up with fighting spirit and beating the Steelers last week, they showed theyre still in it mentally.
Quarterback Ryan Mallett came in to start on Sunday and had a pretty good game against the Steelers. He hooked up nicely through the air with Kamar Aiken, Chris Givens, and FB Kyle Juszczyk. Javorius Allen was productive out of the backfield. While they are missing all their stars, they are still able to move the ball and Malletts presence breathed some life into this team. For an offense completely devoid of star-power to outrun the Pittsburgh offense was remarkable in many ways.
For the purposes of betting this game, its important to note the Ravens propensity to stay in close games this season. Only two games this whole season were decided by margins exceeding 8 points. Virtually all of their games have been close. While their defense has been very exploitable at times this season, they can be stingy at times and some may be surprised to find they are actually the 10th ranked defense in the NFL this season. With Dalton, this Cincy offense didnt exactly thrive against this D the first time they played and the defense hopes to continue that this week.
By any measure, its been a letdown season for the Ravens. But if they were somehow able to play spoiler two weeks in a row against divisional opposition, that would lend an air of credence to their 2015 efforts. But obviously, the urgency arrow points to the Bengals. And even though they are probably looking at not getting a first-round bye, they should be expected to play hard. If for no other reason, they would like to breathe some wind into their sails this week, even if a win doesnt result in a first-round bye. I like Cincinnati, but there is this nagging feeling that tells me this wont be as easy as it seems.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im betting on the Baltimore Ravens plus 9 points.
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