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Ravens @ Bengals: Preview & Prediction

The Baltimore Ravens play at the Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday in the final game of the regular season with playoff possibilities on the line for both teams.

Patrick Smith

If the Baltimore Ravens win Sunday and the New England Patriots lose, the two teams will have the same record but the Ravens will move ahead of the Patriots in playoff seeding by virtue of their 31-30 nail-biter victory earlier this season. That head-to-head win give them the tie-breaker and would most likely have them hosting the Cincinnati Bengals two weeks in a row.

The Ravens play at Cincinnati in week 17 of the regular season and this game could affect the path they have to take to the Super Bowl. If the Bengals win, they will most likely stay in the #6 seeded slot, as even if the current #5 seeded Indianapolis Colts win, the tie-breaker is strength of schedule and Indy should still win that.

Therefore, one could say that the Bengals have nothing to play for and have more of a reason to rest their players than the Ravens do. Add the fact that Baltimore has beaten Cincinnati four straight times and you have a game that might seem to be headed in the Ravens favor.

Not so quick, say Bengals fans, much less the odds-makers, who have the home team a 2.5-point favor in betting circles. Ironically though, Cincy is a much bett road team (6-2) than they have been at home (3-4).

Statistically, Cincinnati looks to be the better team on paper, at least on defense. The Bengals are 6th overall, 10th against the pass and 8th against the run. The Ravens are 20th overall, 17th against the pass and 24th versus the run. However, in the only true defensive category that truly matters, points allowed, they are virtually dead-even, with the Bengals surrendering around 2o ppg and the Ravens 21 ppg.

Offensively, the difference is minimal. Overall, Baltimore is 15th in the league, 13th in passing and 15th in rushing, while Cincy is 20th overall, 16th in passing and 14th in rushing. Scoring is basically the same with both teams, the Ravens averaging 25 and the Bengals averaging 24 points per game.

Therefore, it appears the intangibles will decide this game. They include, home field advantage, individual match-ups and of course, who wins the turnover battle. The home-field advantage is negligible as the Ravens have won the last four overall and the last one in Cincinnati. The match-ups are pretty even, although Ray Rice always has great games against the Bengals.

In the Ravens 44-13 season opening blowout of the Bengals, Rice only had 68 rushing yards, but averaged 6.8 yards on his ten carries and scored twice. In 2011, he had 191 and 104 yards in the two games that season. For whatever reason, he seems to enjoy playing against the guys in tiger stripes.

This is a division game and no one likes to lose in the AFC North. Baltimore swept the division last year but has one loss this season to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cincinnati is 2-3 in the AFC North, with losses to each of its division opponents, not including this week's game.

Yes, not including this week's game, but this week's game will give the Bengals a 2-4 record in the AFC North, as I see this game going the Ravens way. They say it's not how you start, it's how you finish and Baltimore will be on a two-game winning streak headed into their fifth straight post season, the only team in the league able to say that.

The Ravens will run the ball and control the clock. QB Joe Flacco will pass when he has to, while Bengals QB Andy Dalton will have to throw more to play catch-up. The young Ravens defensive line and linebackers will continue to give 100% in order to impress their coaches while the Bengals will look to rest their starters as the game progresses.

That last part is just my opinion but then again, that's all the prediction part, separate from the statistical part, is in this diatribe.

Ravens 23-16

NOTE: Post your best guess and win a cool prize in tomorrow's 'Predict The Score Contest.'