The Baltimore Ravens need to beat AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17 to give themselves a chance at making it into the postseason as the No. 6 seed.
Baltimore is one of four teams vying for that final AFC playoff spot, and Will Brinson of CBS Sports detailed what each of the four must do to secure it:
The Ravens are coming into Week 17 fresh off an embarrassing 41-7 loss to the New England Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium. However, this team won four games in a row before getting blindsided by Tom Brady and the Pats.
It'll take a near-flawless performance on Dec. 29 for Baltimore to beat Cincinnati at home, however. The Bengals are 7-0 at Paul Brown Stadium this season, and the team has scored 43.5 points on average the past four games in front of the home crowd.
Cincinnati already clinched the AFC North in Week 16, but the Bengals could improve their seed with a win, provided the Patriots lose at home to the Buffalo Bills.
Needless to say, there's plenty to play for on both sides, and competition should be fierce from start to finish. Here's what you need to know about the pivotal contest.
When: Sunday, Dec. 29, at 1 p.m. ET
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Betting Lines (via Covers)
- Over/Under: 44.5 points
- Spread: Cincinnati (-6)
Will Baltimore's Defense Slow Down Andy Dalton?
Andy Dalton appears to be a new man since the last time the Bengals played the Ravens, back in Week 10 in Baltimore. Dalton threw three costly interceptions in that game, and the Bengals lost 20-17 in overtime.
Dalton has been phenomenal at home this season, completing 64.8 percent of his passes for 1,786 yards with 18 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He's been particularly stellar the past three games—one of which was a road loss to Pittsburgh—throwing nine touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden recently spoke in glowing terms about his quarterback, while pointing out the next step in his development, as Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com noted:
He's beaten Brady, he's beaten Rodgers, he's beaten Roethlisberger, he's done it all. We just have to do it in the playoffs...The only way to stop the criticism for good is to win playoff games. And Super Bowls.
Baltimore's defense just gave up 41 points at home to Brady and the Patriots, but the Ravens have been tough on that side of the ball for most of the year. Against the pass, Baltimore comes into the game ranked No. 11 in the league, allowing just 226.7 yards per game.
That said, the Ravens have given up some big numbers a few times this season—most notably to Peyton Manning, who burned the team for seven touchdowns in Week 1. Given Dalton's red-hot pace of late, it's hard to imagine the Ravens will keep him in check in Week 17.
Ravens fans won't want to read this, but Baltimore has no chance of winning this game.
Cincinnati was picked by all 12 of Bleacher Report's experts in Week 17, and AFC North lead writer Andrea Hangst provides a succinct assessment for the pick:
The Bengals are undefeated at home, and there's no reason to think that will change. They have the deepest, most complete team in the league, while the Ravens—especially on offense—are shells of their former selves. Another blowout loss for Baltimore could be coming.
What Baltimore has done this season—winning eight games, despite the fact that Ray Rice has been a ghost and the likes of Ray Lewis, Paul Kruger, Ed Reed and others left after winning the Super Bowl—is nothing short of miraculous.
John Harbaugh has gotten everything possible out of his team, but there simply isn't enough to squeeze out of the roster in Week 17 to beat the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Cincinnati will be gunning for that No. 2 seed, and as such, you can count on Marvin Lewis' club to show up sharp on Dec. 29.
Bengals win, 38-24.
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