I'm not surprised that Paul Dehner of CBSSports.com predicts a Bengals win at home in a game in which the Ravens are likely to rest a lot of their regulars.
I am a bit surprised that Dehner seems to overlook the fact that the Bengals will be resting a lot of their guys too.
Ravens at Bengals — Week 17
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati (turf, outdoors)
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Spread: Bengals by 2.5
Forecast: Temperature around 30 degrees, no precipitation expected
Records: Bengals (9-6; AFC North 2-3); Ravens (10-5; AFC North 4-1)
Past results: Two most recent regular-season meetings — Sept. 10, 2012: Ravens 44, Bengals 13; Jan. 1, 2012: Ravens 24, Bengals 16. Series record: Ravens lead, 19-14
The Bengals are already locked into the No. 6 seed of the playoffs and Baltimore can only move between the No. 3 and No. 4 seed. Both teams say they will be playing full force—-but the fact is both teams will be resting starters who are still pretty banged up or rehabbing from injury.
Marvin Lewis, head coach of the Bengals, is saying all the right things:
"The other times we have been in this situation when you pick and choose who is going to play, I've had guys who are good guys all of a sudden go, 'Man, I'm hurt,coach,'" Lewis said. "I think the way is you have to go full speed ahead and cross my fingers and toes and get after it. I think in doing that, be aggressive as playcallers, in all three phases and play it like any other game.”
Trust me, if this game gets into the second half with either team down by 14 or more, you will need a game program and a spotter to keep up with the substitution players.
Key matchup: LB Rey Maualuga vs. RB Ray Rice. The Ravens will go with Rice for at least the first half. Every time these two teams get together, this matchup tells the story. Rice makes the Ravens tick and if Maualuga can lead the charge containing him, the Bengals will force Joe Flacco to beat them while contending with the tenacious pass rush. The odds would flip dramatically in the favor of the home team if Rice can be contained.
Where the Ravens can take charge of this game early: Dominating the Bengals offensive line. The last two weeks this Bengals group regressed from being one of the reliable components of their team to an exposed liability entering the playoffs. They've allowed 17 sacks in the last three weeks after needing the previous 10 weeks to reach that mark. Concerns are raised not only in pass protection, but a running game that mustered just 14 yards on 15 carries last week.
Stat you should know: The Bengals need two sacks Sunday to break the franchise record for sacks in season (48). Geno Atkins needs one sack to move into second on the Bengals all-time list for sacks in a season. If Michael Johnson notches a half-sack they'll become the second combination of Bengals to each grab double-digit sacks in a season.
Record watch: A.J. Green has caught 160 passes in his first two NFL seasons. With nine receptions on Sunday he'll break Marques Colston's record for most receptions in a player's first two NFL seasons. Green will also be chasing a Bengals single-season receiving yards mark. He needs 117 to pass Chad Johnson for the franchise record of 1,440 set in 2006.
So Paul Dehner of CBSSports.com calls it 20-16, Bengals…I'm not seeing it as clearly or as close as that. The Bengals are very banged up in the secondary and I guarantee you they will be resting their starters Jason Allen (hamstring) and Terence Newman (groin), both of whom will be playing very few snaps if any at all. I think Joe Flacco goes right after the DB's just brought up from the practice squad for this game (including Chris Lewis-Harris), and there's a good chance Flacco puts the game out of reach early.
Then everyone on both sides can relax—and get ready for next weekend and the playoffs.
Follow Paul Dehner Jr. for Bengals updates on Twitter @CBSBengals.