Baltimore came within a late missed field goal of forcing overtime in the AFC Championship Game vs. New England last year, while Cincinnati was very lucky to make the playoffs at 9-7, backing in despite losing its season finale to these Ravens! Baltimore is a 6-point favorite here with the total set at 41.
1. Why Baltimore will cover the spread: The Ravens will cover the spread if they can generate a pass rush despite losing Terrell Suggs and his impressive 14 sacks last year potentially for the season to a torn Achilles. That pass rush has not looked good in preseason, but that is not always an indication of true defensive schemes used during the regular season and Baltimore has a cerebral new defensive coordinator in Dean Pees, who formerly served as the linebacker coach and should be adept at drawing up disguised coverages that bring pressure from the linebackers, as well as from defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Speaking of line play, another key to a Baltimore cover is its offensive line holding off a Cincinnati defensive line that had 47 sacks in 2011. If Joe Flacco has time to throw, he can pick on the Bengals’ injury depleted cornerback corps.
2. Why Cincinnati will cover the spread: Cincinnati will cover the spread if its biggest off-season acquisition, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, can run effectively vs. what is still a stout Baltimore run defense. That may seem counterintuitive given that the Bengals have one of the best receivers in football in A.J. Green and, as mentioned, the Ravens might have issues rushing the passer, but it is easier to play pass defense when there is no fear of the run, especially with the starting receiver on the opposite side of Green still being a question mark. Another key for the Bengals is containing Ray Rice much better than last year, when he incredibly rushed for 191 yards in the season finale after rushing for 104 yards in the first meeting here in Baltimore.
3. Total Talk: We like the ‘under’ as we do not see this game getting out of the 30s. We are not big fans of Green-Ellis as a go-to back as we feel he was a “system” guy in New England. Do not expect him or any other back doing much vs. a Ravens’ run defense that ranked second in the NFL, allowing 92.6 rushing yards per game on 3.54 yards per carry. That should help offset the possible decline of the pass rush, although we are sure Pees will have some tricks up his sleeve after playing more “vanilla” in preseason, and the experienced and good Baltimore secondary will double-team Green with not much on the other side. The Ravens should also control the clock on offense with Rice, either with runs or with swing passes.
4. Betting Trends for the game: Amazingly, when Cincinnati went 9-7 SU last year, it went 0-7 vs. teams that made the 2011 playoffs and 9-0 vs. non-playoff teams.
Baltimore 24 – Cincinnati 13