Baltimore Ravens Week 17 Preview
The Baltimore Ravens (10-5) will travel to Paul Brown Stadium to faceoff with the Cincinnati Bengals (4-10-1) in an AFC North matchup at 1 p.m. ET on CBS to close out the regular season officially punch their trip to the postseason.
Last week, the Ravens finally got the help they needed to move into position to secure one of the three wildcard spots in the AFC playoff picture under the new expanded format.
Not only did the Cleveland Browns lose in a stunning upset to the New York Jets but Indianapolis also lost after letting the Pittsburgh Steelers mount a second-half comeback.
The Ravens extended their current win streak to four in a row with a lopsided 27-13 win over the New York Giants in Week 15 thanks to a red-hot offense and a defense that is getting great play from its depth players as the regular starters recover from their lingering ailments.
The Bengals are winners of their last two games and are coming off their most potent offensive performance of the season with a 37-31 victory over the Houston Texans a week after shocking the world in a 27-17 stunner of the Steelers on Monday Night Football.
Here is a detailed breakdown of the matchup including potential X factors, injuries to monitor for each team, and a final outcome prediction.
What’s at stake:
The Ravens are finally in control of their own playoff destiny and are one win away from making it official. They are currently the sixth seed in the current playoff standing and are in line to play the sputtering Steelers on wildcard weekend with an opportunity to avenge a pair of narrow regular-season losses.
With a win, Baltimore would improve to 11-5 overall, 7-5 in AFC conference play and make the playoffs for the third straight season after missing narrowly missing out in the previous three consecutive seasons.
If the Bengals were to pull off the upset, they improve to 5-10-1 overall and 5-7 in AFC conference play but will still likely be picking in the top five of the draft for a second straight year.
A Cincinnati win would also mean that Baltimore would no longer be in control of their postseason fate and would need help to get in once more.
Injuries to monitor:
The Ravens have 10 players listed as questionable on the final injury report and all are expected to play, including star veteran cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith who have missed the last two games with injuries.
It will mark the first time that Baltimore has had its entire starting secondary and top three corners available since Week 14’s Monday Night thrilling win over the Cleveland Browns when both Smith and Peters went down.
Both players returned to practice for the first time this week. Peters was limited on Wednesday and participated fully on Thursday and Friday. Smith missed Wednesday’s practice and was a limited participant on Thursday and Friday.
Their returns to the lineup when will help the Ravens contain the lethal wide receiver trio of Tyler Boyd returning from a concussion, stalwart veteran AJ Green and standout rookie Tee Higgins. Hopefully, they’ll be able to knock off any rust in a winning effort before embarking on a playoff run.
Head Coach John Harbaugh told reporters on Friday that veteran punter Sam Koch will likely miss the regular-season finale after being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 List Wednesday.
That means that punting and holding duties will fall two third-year pro Johnny Townsend who the team signed on Thursday off the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice squad.
The Ravens had three players miss the entire week of practice buts still have a shot to play Sunday. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue is dealing with a thigh, veteran wide receiver Willie Snead was held out with an ankle injury, and center Patrick Mekari suffered a back injury in the first half of last week’s win over the Giants.
If Ngakoue can’t play it will mean that the Ravens resurgent pass rush will be without one of its best players but it will also open up more opportunities to rush the passer for Jaylon Ferguson, Jihad Ward, and Tyus Bowser.
Snead is third on the team in receptions (33) and receiving yards (432) and is tied for the third-most touchdown catches (three) as well. If he couldn’t suit up then it could mean more snaps for rookie wideouts Devin Duvernay and James Proche, especially in the slot.
If Mekari is out, it would mean that either Matt Skura or rookie Trystan Colon-Castillo would slide into his starting spot. Skura started the first nine games of the season at center before errant snap issues landed him on the bench and Colon-Castillo made his first career start at center against the Steelers in Week 12.
As for the Bengals, they don’t have any players listed as questionable but have ruled out center B.J. Finney (Abdomen), cornerback William Jackson (concussion), and Logan Wilson (ankle).
Wilson had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Ravens in their last meeting with an interception, quarterback hit, and another near interception that resulted in a pass deflection.
Potential X factors:
WR Dez Bryant
The veteran wide receiver has scored a touchdown in each of the Ravens’ last two games after a more than three-year drought while attempting his inspiring comeback. He is finally becoming the big red zone weapon for Jackson in passing that the team had envisioned when they brought him aboard.
In addition to heating up as a pass-catcher as of late, Bryant has provided a jolt of energy to the Ravens team as a whole on both sides of the ball on and off the field.
The entire sideline erupts every time he touches the ball and when he has scored in each of the past two weeks, he hasn’t been the only one throwing up his signature ‘X’ celebration after the play.
Against a Cincinnati pass defense that ranks in the bottom half of the league in nearly every statistical category, the likelihood of Bryant extending his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown catch is high.
OLB Matt Judon
The two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker has been heating up during the second half of the season after a slow start to the year. He has recorded a sack in four of his last five games including his first career safety and has made a handful of other impressive plays behind the line of scrimmage as well.
Judon might be playing his last regular-season game as a Raven since he playing on an augmented franchise tag and is making a strong case break the bank with a lucrative contract this offseason with Baltimore or elsewhere so he will likely want to go out with a bang if it is his last hurrah in purple and black.
Recent history of the matchup:
The Ravens have a slim 26-23 lead in the all-time series between these two bitter rivals but have won the last four after losing eight of the previous 10.
During the Harbaugh era, Baltimore is against Cincinnati but have not lost to them since Jackson became the full-time starter midway through his rookie year when he made his first career start in their second meeting of the 2018 season.
I predict that the Ravens will win their fifth in a row to officially clinch a playoff berth with another dominant show of force over yet another inferior team. I believe that they will do so by using a well-balanced offensive attack and a defense that will record five or more sacks for the third straight game notch their first shutout of the season.
Final outcome: Ravens blowout Bengals 38-0