The Baltimore Ravens (10-5) and the Cincinnati Bengals (9-6) may already be locked into the playoffs, but that doesn't mean their matchup on Sunday is a throw-away game. Momentum can be crucial in the postseason and the winner will have plenty of it.
The Ravens come in as the AFC North champions, and need a win to keep things going after a 33-14 win over the New York Giants in Week 16. The win against the Giants was huge for the Ravens—it clinched the AFC North and snapped a three-game losing streak.
However, a loss to the Bengals and this team will be on shaky legs heading into the postseason.
Conversely, the Bengals are on a roll in the latter part of the season. Cincinnati has reeled off six wins in their last seven games to lock itself into the postseason as the AFC's No. 6 seed. They are locked into their current position in the playoffs, but a win would certainly provide confidence heading into a likely matchup with the New England Patriots.
The Ravens opened the season with a 44-13 beatdown of the Bengals at home, but this game should tell a different story. Here's everything you need to know about this AFC North matchup between playoff teams.
Where: Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio
When: Sunday, Dec. 30 at 1 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NFL.com
Spread: Cincinnati -3 (via Bovada)
The Bengals are favored by three and for good reason—they are playing their best football of the season right now.
The defense has been great lately and was a huge reason why they beat Pittsburgh last season as they held Ben Roethlisberger and Co. to 10 points.
The Ravens were able to turn things around last week, but that doesn't erase the fact that they haven't been playing well for weeks. The offense has been perplexing on a week-to-week basis, as the firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron during the season would indicate.
The Bengals don't have any playoff position to play for, but according to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer head coach Marvin Lewis intends to use his starters and play to win. That should signal a Bengals win.
Over/Under: 41 (via Bovada)
The AFC North as a whole is known as a smash-mouth, defensive-minded division, but this one should see its fair share of scoring.
The Bengals' ugly 13-10 win is probably a big reason why the over/under is relatively low, but this should be a much different matchup. Cincinnati's defense is playing very well right now and has a great defensive line that allows them to pressure the quarterback without giving up coverage, but the Ravens offense is much better than Pittsburgh's.
This won't be a shootout, but there will be points scored between the two teams. The Ravens are no longer a defensive team and will look figure out the kinks in the offense heading into the playoffs. With the third seed in the playoffs an outside possibility, they'll try to score as much as possible.
Injury Report (via Yahoo! Sports as of 12/28/2012)
|Deonte Thompson WR||Probable||Thigh|
|Terrell Suggs LB||Probable||Biceps|
|Jimmy Smith CB||Probable||Abdomen|
|Ed Reed S||Probable||Shoulder|
|Pernell McPhee DE||Probable||Thigh|
|Arthur Jones DE||Probable||Shoulder|
|James Ihedigbo S||Probable||Neck|
|Ed Dickson TE||Probable||Knee|
|Marshal Yanda G||Questionable||Ankle|
|Torrey Smith WR||Questionable||Head|
|Bernard Pierce RB||Questionable||Head|
|Albert McClellan LB||Questionable||Thigh, shoulder|
|Vonta Leach RB||Questionable||Ankle|
|Dannell Ellerbe LB||Questionable||Ankle|
|Tandon Doss WR||Questionable||Ankle|
|Bernard Pollard S||Doubtful||Chest|
|Andrew Whitworth T||Probable||Head|
|Andre Smith T||Probable||Foot|
|Cedric Peerman RB||Questionable||Ankle|
|Mike Nugent K||Questionable||Head|
|Adam Jones CB||Questionable||Hamstring|
|Clark Harris TE||Probable||Not injury related|
|Carlos Dunlap DE||Probable||Illness|
|Vontaze Burfict LB||Probable||Illness|
Fantasy Big Plays
Baltimore: WR Torrey Smith
Ray Rice is an obvious starter from Baltimore's offense, but wide receiver Torrey Smith is a high-upside player this week.
The Ravens offense really seemed to click for the first time in weeks against the Giants and much of that can be attributed to Smith. He hauled in five passes for 88 yards and a touchdown in the team's blowout win over New York.
With a matchup against a tough defense in Cincinnati, the Ravens should be looking to stretch the field with Smith once again. Expect him to take advantage of those opportunities.
Projected Stats: Six receptions, 90 yards, 1 TD
Cincinnati: RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Owners that were spurned by the Law Firm's poor Week 16 performance shouldn't fret—he's primed for a bounce-back performance against the Ravens.
The Steelers still have a top-shelf run defense and Green-Ellis was consistently forced to run into a wall of Pittsburgh defenders. Against Baltimore, that shouldn't be an issue. The Ravens are not good at stopping the run.
Thanks to an aging and oft-injured defense, the days of Baltimore forcing opposing running backs into fantasy irrelevance are over. Green-Ellis should be a good RB2 play.
Projected Stats: 17 carries, 85 yards, 1 TD
Key to Victory
This is the kind of game that will be won in the trenches.
Both teams' passing games depend on the ability to complete passes on a five or seven-step drop. A.J. Green is quite possibly the best deep threat in the game for Cincinnati while Baltimore's Smith has big-play potential in his own right.
The Ravens have one of the most talented running backs in the league in Ray Rice, but their use of him has been perplexing at times. If the offensive line is able to block the likes of Geno Atkins it will go a long way towards getting Rice more opportunities and scoring points.
On the flip side, the Ravens have to find a way to pressure Andy Dalton or the Bengals will have no problem getting the ball downfield to Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham.
The Ravens may be the AFC North champs, but no one in the division is playing better than the Bengals. With Lewis' decision to play his starters and go for the win, the team should be trying to get the win and prove that they are just as good as the champions.
Look for this Bengals front seven to show that its dominance on defense is more legitimate than it has been getting credit for. Baltimore will find ways to put points on the board but ultimately the Bengals will get enough stops to win.
Final Score: Cincinnati 24, Baltimore 20