2011 NFL Week 11 Picks: Ravens over Bengals

Jake WestrichSenior Writer INovember 15, 2011

BALTIMORE - OCTOBER 30:  Ray Lewis #52 of the Baltimore Ravens is introduced before the game against the Arizona Cardinals at M&T Bank Stadium on October 30. 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Cardinals 30-27. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
Larry French/Getty Images

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Game of the Week: Bengals at Ravens

The AFC North crown was projected to be a two-team race between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. Part of this prophecy has come to fruition, as the Steel Curtain sits atop the division with a 7-3 record with the Purple Pain slightly behind at 6-3, although the Ravens have swept the season series.

However, a slight addendum is warranted, as a third party has thrown their name into the ring for postseason berth. The Cincinnati Bengals, forecast by many to finish in the cellar of the conference, have been the surprise of the first half of the season, entering Week 10 as the top dog in the AFC. A home loss to the rival Steelers left the Orange and Black at 6-3, but few outside of the Bengal clubhouse believed such a feat possible. The team travels to Baltimore in Week 11, with the contest between the divisional foes serving as the WhatIfSports.com Game of the Week.

Coming off a 4-12 campaign in 2010, the prognostication for Cincinnati's 2011 already looked murky before franchise quarterback Carson Palmer decided to retire rather than suit up in tiger stripes again. Another blow to the franchise was the departure of shutdown corner Johnathan Joseph thanks to owner Mike Brown's frugal ways. These developments, coupled with the sentiment of starting a rookie signal caller in Andy Dalton, seemed to prophesize doom for the Who-Deys.

Yet the effectiveness of Dalton and dominance of a mean defensive front ignited the Bengals to a five-game winning streak, setting the team up for a second-half crusade for the playoffs. Helping Dalton has been first-round selection A.J. Green, posting 41 receptions for 635 yards and six scores in just over eight games of action. And while he has yet to submit awe-inspiring numbers, Cedric Benson has been sound in the running game, rushing for 593 yards in eight outings.

However, the aforementioned front line of the defense is the foundation for the Bengals' success. To keep his players fresh, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has an eight-man rotation, wreaking havoc in the second half of games against tired and drained opposing offensive lines. This strategy has correlated to 25 sacks—third in the AFC—and nine recovered fumbles —second-most in the NFL.

The Ravens can appreciate Cincinnati's onus on defense, as the they have an impeccable and intimidating reputation of resistance. Bolstered by veterans Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata, Baltimore is surrendering a meager 16.9 points per contest, second-best in the AFC.

Alas, the Ravens' fortunes will ultimately be determined by the play of quarterback Joe Flacco. That groan you just heard was the sigh of every Baltimore fan acknowledging that opinion.

At times, the product out of Delaware looks like one of the league's elite, illustrated by Flacco's four games of 300 or more yards this season, all which doubled as Baltimore victories. Yet in other contests, Flacco appears like a chicken running around with its' head severed. This erraticism has hampered the team from reaching the next level, exemplified by losses to weak opponents like Seattle and Jacksonville. If the Ravens harbor any hopes of making a run in January, Flacco will need to display some type of consistency and perseverance.

So who wins this clash of AFC North titans? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com simulation engine, the Ravens come out on top 76.1 percent of the time by an average score of 24-15. To check the rest of this week's predictions, see below: