Each Tuesday morning, we will preview every NFL game of the upcoming week. All of our NFL content, including our most recent power rankings and links to the preseason preview, are located here .
The inputs to the 10,001 simulations of each upcoming game are based on a rigorous analysis of each team that considers strength-of-schedule-adjusted team and player ratings and then makes modifications for injuries and depth at each position. To see other picks like our Upset and Locks of the Week, as well as our season-to-date performance, click here.
Game of the Week: No. 12 Baltimore Ravens 20 at No. 9 Cincinnati Bengals 23
With three teams all within one game of the lead, only one other division in the NFL— the NFC East—i s as close going into Week Nine as the AFC North. Will the AFC North's top three teams go into Week 10 in the middle of the same battle? Or will we see some separation?
It all comes down to Sunday's matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals.
If the visiting Ravens win their second big game in a row, they'll find themselves in either a tie for first or second— depending on how Pittsburgh's game turns out. If the Bengals continue their successful season with another victory, they could take the outright lead in the North and put the Ravens two games out and in quite the predicament as the NFL nears its stretch run.
Cincinnati put itself in this position by taking down Baltimore four weeks ago with one of the Bengals' many late fourth-quarter rallies. Another close, heated battle on Sunday would be no surprise.
The Ravens snapped their three-game losing streak in dominating fashion against the Broncos last week, using the extra preparation of a bye week to hand Denver its first loss of the season, 30-7.
Baltimore is 4-3, but still has the league's fourth-best scoring offense at more than 28 points per game while playing against the fourth-toughest schedule to-date.
Led by Ray Rice, who ranks fifth among all running backs with at least 65 carries at 5.5 yards per rush, the Ravens are averaging 4.6 yards per carry as a team. And quarterback Joe Flacco is throwing for more than seven yards per attempt, a number that has helped Baltimore convert nearly 50 percent of its third down opportunities.
The Ravens defense isn't quite as stout as it has been in recent years and is giving up 5.3 yards per play. But Cincinnati will have to work hard to have another successful ground game against Ray Lewis and Baltimore, which is giving up just 3.5 yards per carry.
The Bengals are also coming off of their most impressive victory of the season. They had a bye last week, but decimated the Chicago Bears 45-10 one week earlier and are now 5-2 despite having played the third-hardest schedule in the NFL.
Cedric Benson and the Bengals are only rushing for 4.4 yards per carry, but their most recent meeting with Baltimore was one of the most successful for any back against the Ravens in recent memory. Quarterback Carson Palmer hasn't exactly been lights-out— averaging 7.1 yards per attempt— but has rebounded with a solid season and has been a key cog in clutch situations.
Cincinnati will also bring a stout rushing defense into this week as opponents are averaging just 3.9 yards per carry against the Bengals. Similarly, the Bengals struggle a little bit more against the pass, and this game could come down to how effective each teams' secondary is at shutting down Flacco or Palmer.
According to 10,001 simulations (View Predicted Boxscore) , Cincinnati may need another dramatic fourth quarter, but the Bengals create a slight amount of separation in the AFC North by topping the Ravens for the second time this season. They win 55.2 percent of the time, by an average score of 23-20.
Cincinnati is actually getting three points in Vegas, making a Bengals upset one of the strongest plays of the week (the Bengals cover 69.9 percent). The total, at 43.5, is much weaker and is virtually a tossup.
It looks like the Bengals' offensive playmakers give them the edge.
The Ravens average more rushing yards and more passing yards, but in more than half of the simulations, Benson comes close to rushing for 100 yards again, and scores a touchdown. So does wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, who could get to the 100-yard mark as well. In a tight game, the kicking game could almost certainly play a factor as well, and Shayne Graham averages nearly two field goals per game, while Ravens' kicker Steven Hauschka averages 1.5.
Cincinnati's offense needed a dominating performance to beat Baltimore by three the first time. It may not gain that offensive advantage again this time, but the result looks like more of the same.
Our Against the Spread "Lock of the Week" is 6-2 on the year and 22-5 all-time. To see other picks like our Upset and Locks of the Week, as well as our season-to-date accuracy, click here. Click on the Boxscore below to the average results from 10,001 simulations of that game. Or click on Simulate Game to play the game once and view stats and play-by-play from that simulation.
NFL Week Nine
|Matchup||Win Percentage ||Avg Score|
|@ New Orleans Saints||86.5||34|
|@ Atlanta Falcons||79.9||26|
|@ Seattle Seahawks||75.5||25|
|@ Indianapolis Colts||68.0||29|
|@ New England Patriots||65.6||27|
|@ San Francisco 49ers||65.1||23|
|Kansas City Chiefs||37.1||18||Boxscore|
|@ Jacksonville Jaguars||62.9||24|
|@ Chicago Bears||58.3||23|
|@ Cincinnati Bengals||55.2||23|
|@ Philadelphia Eagles||51.6||28|
|@ Denver Broncos||35.9||18|
|San Diego Chargers||67.5||21||Boxscore|
|@ New York Giants||32.5||18|
|Green Bay Packers||85.0||28||Boxscore|
|@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers||15.0||16|
Other Notable Games in Week Nine
As other divisions look to create more separation, the AFC West race may just get a little bit murkier. The New York Giants continue their freefall, losing their fourth game in a row 67.5 percent of the time as they host the San Diego Chargers this weekend. With a win San Diego could move within one game of the Denver Broncos, who drop their second consecutive game 64.1 percent of the time while hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The closest game of the week looks like it will take place in Philadelphia as the Eagles host the Dallas Cowboys. Philly has won two games in a row and Dallas has won three, but something will have to give in a game that is nearly a coin flip. The winner will take the outright lead in the NFC East and the Eagles do just that 51.6 percent of the time and by an avereage score of 28-26.
Other Notable Names in Week Nine
The changeup in Tennessee seemed to spark the Titans as Vince Young took over at quarterback and they went on to stomp on Jacksonville 30-13. Young's numbers certainly didn't jump off the page, but it was Tennessee's first victory of the season.
The Titans should get a stiffer test this week as they travel across the country to face the 49ers. San Francisco wins 65.1 percent of the time and by a score of 23-17 as Young averages about 152 passing yards and nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns. Tennessee running back Chris Johnson, last week's leading rusher, should get to triple digit rushing yards again.
Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning and New Orleans signal caller Drew Brees led the league in passing yards last week. Not coincidentally, the Colts and Saints are now the NFL's only remaining unbeaten teams. Brees and the Saints remain unbeaten 86.5 percent of the time while hosting Carolina, and Brees could very well eclipse 300 passing yards for the fifth time this year. Manning has a slightly lower chance to get to 300, but his team should remain undefeated as well, beating visiting Houston 68 percent of the time.
Eric Schmoldt is a writer and Paul Bessire is the Product Manager of Content and Quantitative Analysis for WhatIfSports.com, a division of FOX Sports Interactive specializing in fantasy football simulation analysis and football sim games . With any comments, questions, or topic suggestions, Paul and Eric can be reached at BtB@whatifsports.com . Thanks!