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2022 AFC Wild-Card Preview: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Burrow

(AP/Jeff Dean)

2022 Wild-Card Preview: Baltimore at Cincinnati

The Baltimore Ravens will travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals in an intradivision wild-card matchup. This comes after the Bengals just defeated the Ravens in a Week 18 matchup to secure home filed. Lamar Jackson was notably absent from that game and his potential return is sure to shake up this matchup.

With that in mind, let’s go over three possible ways each team can win and break down this anticipated matchup.

10-7 Baltimore Ravens at 12-4 Cincinnati Bengals

Sunday, January 15th, 8:15 p.m. ET: NBC

Spread: Cincinnati -7 Over/Under 42

How The Baltimore Ravens Can Win

1. Hope to God Lamar Jackson can play

I know people still debate about if Jackson is a franchise quarterback and worth the contract he is going to sign this offseason. But what can’t be ignored is simply how bad this Ravens offense has been in his absence.

Tyler Huntley provides some of the rushing upside you get with Jackson, but it’s clear that he isn’t near the level the latter is at in terms of throwing the ball. Outside of Mark Andrews, who’s been banged up for a good chunk of the season, the weapons on this Baltimore team leave a lot to be desired. It’s clear that Jackson is able to elevate this offense in a way that Huntley can’t.

It may be stating the obvious, but the Ravens need Lamar Jackson if they want to win.

2. Keep the ball out of Joe Burrow’s hands

The clear strength of this Bengals team is their extremely potent offense. They have a multitude of different guys that burn you and are a matchup nightmare for most teams on the outside. The best way to neutralize an offense of this caliber is to simply keep them off the field. Baltimore has to dominate both the ground game and time of possession battle.

Let J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and possibly Jackson use their legs and move the chains in a slow but effective manner. Doing this will not only keep the ball away from the Bengals but also tire their defense and make it easier for their offense to score points. Don’t get too cute, the Ravens have an identity of running the ball and they would be foolish to abandon it here.

3. Trust in your defense

This Ravens defense has been a bit off from the elite units we’ve seen in years past, but it is still a very formidable unit capable of winning them this game. The addition of Roquan Smith has worked wonders for this defense and was a much-needed boost. The Bengals offensive line is very bad, so getting pressure on Joe Burrow early and often could prevent him from getting into a rhythm and picking them apart.

It’s almost impossible to have three defensive backs who can match with this Bengals receiving core, and getting pressure is likely to be the only way to prevent Ja’Marr Chase or Tee Higgins from taking over this game.

It’s going to take a near-perfect performance from this unit and John Harbaugh has proven more than enough times that he is a capable coach able to win the big games.

How the Cincinnati Bengals Can Win

1. Protect Joe Burrow

It goes without saying that if the Ravens are going to want to pressure Burrow, then the Bengals should try to prevent that.

While this offensive line unit improved with the addition of La’el Collins over the summer — though Collins is out for the rest of year with a torn ACL and MCL — it is still very much a weakness of this team, especially with his absence. Burrow was still sacked 41 times this season, which was the sixth most in the league. While some of those can be attributed to Burrow trying to play hero ball, when watching a Bengals game, you can see just how poor this unit can be.

The Ravens are going to be gunning for Burrow early as they look to keep him out of rhythm. The fluidity of this offense relies first on the play of this offensive line. If they want to avoid an upset, they have to win the battle in the trenches.

2. Trust in the run game

The Bengals have what many people would consider a top-10 running back in Joe Mixon. Despite this, it seemed like many times they would just give up on the run game for no reason.

I get Burrow is a beast and has the ability to lead this team to victory, but just because he can doesn’t mean he has to. Down the stretch Burrow found himself throwing the ball a lot — his last two games have seen him throw the ball 52 and 49 times, respectively. Once you get to the playoffs you cannot be one-dimensional, especially when facing a coach like Harbaugh.

Running the ball will also help take some pressure off this weak offensive line unit. It will open up the passing game and keep the defense on their toes enough to hopefully hide the weaknesses on the line. But getting pass-happy early will allow this Ravens defense to tee off on Burrow and make his life a living hell.

3. The Bengals’ receiving corps is almost impossible to contain

Very rarely do you find a team which has three receivers capable of 1000-yard seasons. But with the Bengals, you have just that: a three-headed monster with Chase, Higgins and the vastly underrated Tyler Boyd. The trio are a matchup nightmare for any defense, as any of them is capable of changing the game at any point. We’ve seen Chase and Higgins take games over before and if the Bengals want to win this matchup, they are certainly going to want to get them going.

The Ravens did boast a top-10 pass defense in yards allowed per game, but they lack the playmakers on the outside in my opinion to effectively neutralize all three of these receivers. I think the Bengals will realize this and attempt to maximize these mismatches as often as they can.

The Prediction

Well, it may be a bit boring but I’m going with the Bengals here.

Cincinatti just seems like the better team and with it being unlikely for Jackson to play, I don’t see how this team can score enough points to win this game. Even if Jackson were to play, he would clearly not be at 100 percent and hasn’t practiced in about five weeks — which would surely impact his on-field performance.

It should be a relatively easy win for the Bengals so long as they don’t hurt themselves too much and keep the Ravens in the game.

Score Prediction: 28-13 Bengals


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