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Ravens vs. Bengals: Key matchups for Wild-Card weekend

These battles may decide Sunday night’s playoff game

NFL: DEC 18 Bengals at Buccaneers Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens are preparing to face the Cincinnati Bengals for the third time this season, this time on Sunday Night Football of Wild-Card weekend. The Ravens — still without quarterback Lamar Jackson — are massive underdogs on the road with the Bengals favored by 8.5 points, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Baltimore, with third-string undrafted rookie quarterback Anthony Brown starting, kept their Week 18 contest against Cincinnati closer than many expected on the back of a strong defensive performance.

On top of the key matchups I wrote about in Week 18, the Ravens will need a number of other individual victories on Sunday night in order to pull the massive upset against a divisional rival.

D.J. Reader vs. Tyler Linderbaum

Baltimore’s first-round rookie center was a hit in Year 1, specifically as a run blocker. Linderbaum’s struggles as a pass blocker cannot be ignored though, and he will face a daunting matchup this week against Cincinnati defensive tackle D.J. Reader. Reader will be pivotal in stopping what will surely be a run-heavy attack from offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

Linderbaum finished with the fourth-highest run-blocking grade among centers for the 2022 season by PFF. Against the Bengals in Week 18, Linderbaum finished with a run-blocking grade of 83.3, while Reader finished with a grade of 52.0 against the run. Linderbaum held up in pass protection as well last week, which he will have to do again this week while protecting a backup quarterback.

Calais Campbell vs. Max Scharping

Cincinnati suffered a major injury along their offensive line last week as right guard Alex Cappa left the game with an ankle injury. The Bengals have since ruled Cappa out against the Ravens, with Max Scharping expected to start in his place. Cappa was a big component of Cincinnati’s improved offensive line play this season after being signed in free agency. Scharping has previous starting experience but is a noteworthy downgrade on paper.

Baltimore’s defensive line features several players that could step up to take advantage of this perceived weakness, but perhaps none more than veteran defensive end Calais Campbell. In what could possibly be the last game of his esteemed career, Campbell will be looking to finally notch his 100th sack after failing to reach the desired milestone in the regular season.

Mike Macdonald vs. Joe Burrow

After a rough start, Mike Macdonald’s first year as defensive coordinator for the Ravens ended up as quite a successful debut season. After giving up record performances against the Bengals last season under previous defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale, Macdonald’s unit was able to hold Cincinnati’s offense relatively in check in both meetings this season, limiting quarterback Joe Burrow to under 400 total passing yards combined.

Macdonald’s ‘bend but don’t break’ approach is quite the opposite of Martindale’s all-out attacking style that Burrow shredded in 2021. Burrow missed a few throws last week, but overall, Macdonald has eliminated big plays from the star quarterback and his top-tier wide receiver trio so far this season. Both sides surely kept a little behind the curtain in Week 18 with the knowledge that they would meet again in a week’s time on a much bigger stage. The chess match between one of the league’s up-and-coming signal callers and one of the most cerebral quarterbacks will be fascinating to watch unfold.