The Baltimore Ravens host the Cncinnati Bengals in the final regular season game on their way to their third consecutive playoff appearance. The Ravens have made the playoffs in all three of both head coach John Harbaugh and QB Joe Flacco's careers with the team. While the Bengals were AFC North division champs last year and have beaten the Ravens three straight times, they will be sitting home after what has been an extremely disappointing 2010 season.
For whatever reason, Baltimore seems to have a tough time matching up with Cincinnati, with Joe Flacco having some of his most frustrating games against them, including a four interception performance in a 15-10 week two loss in Cincinnati. Since then, however, Flacco has been among the most efficient QB's in the league behind New England's Tom Brady, throwing 24 touchdown passes and only four interceptions.
A win against the Bengals combined with a loss by the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Cleveland Browns will give the Ravens the AFC North crown and a first round playoff bye instead of going on the road next week as the Wild Card fifth seed.
(See more after the 'Jump' including my prediction of the final score and join us for a gametime 'Open Thread' at around 12:45pm today)
Unfortunately, relying on Cleveland to beat Pittsburgh in order to win the division is a bit much to expect, but that will not sway the Ravens from doing what they need to do in order to go into the post season on a four game winning streak. Most likely, it appears the Ravens will be heading to Indianapolis for the first round of the playoffs, as the Colts lead the AFC South and only need a win at home over the Tennessee Titans to clinch the division and the home game. The odds that the Jacksonville Jaguars beating the Texans in Houston without both QB David Garrard and Maurice Jones-Drew while the Titans upset the Colts in Indianapolis are virtually unrealistic, but still possible if the stars align just right.
Regardless, the Ravens will be focusing on ending the Bengals recent domination, and with both Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens out for the game, their chances seem to be pretty good that Cincy's streak versus them and their two game winning streak will end at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Ravens defense has been playing a lot better against the run as well as the pass, but if they can shut down RB Cedric Benson, they can attack QB Carson Palmer with pressure and add to his 18 interceptions. Baltimore has re-focused on the run and it has helped their offense control the ball and even open up the passing game. The Bengals defense is rated 19th overall, 20th against the run and 19th against the pass, giving up over 25 points a game. If the Ravens can score that many points, odds are they will win this game, as their defense is giving up less than 18 points per game, third best in the NFL this season.
While Carson Palmer is still a dangerous QB, he seems to be on the downside of his career and his 18 picks represent the most he has had since 2007 when he threw 20 to opposing teams. Expect the Ravens to get a couple in this game and turn them into the points they will need to win the game and end the regular season with a 12-4 record, the same amount of wins they had in the Super Bowl winning season of 2000-01.
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