By David McDonnell

On paper, this looks like a dream play-off pairing between divisional opponents and unfortunately for all involved, circumstances have taken away one of the main protagonists in Baltimore’s superstar quarterback Lamar Jackson. 

Jackson’s knee injury has ruled him out for the last six weeks, and for a Ravens offence that is built around his talents, in particular his threat of running with the ball in hand from the QB position, this is a seismic blow. 

That his replacement, Tyler Huntley, is also carrying a shoulder injury adds to their misfortune, and we could see Anthony Brown under centre at some stage during this playoff contest.

This puts the Cincinnati defence in a much advantageous position going into a knockout fixture and I expect the Ravens to spend as much time running the ball as they can and try and work some openings off play-action. By sticking with a run-first game plan, they will hope to keep Burrow longer on the sideline and wear the Bengals defence down. 

The Bengals also have their injury problems, as they are down two of their starting offensive linemen with Alex Cappa ruled out through injury and La’el Collins placed on injured reserve. 

This gives the Ravens a fighting chance, as statistically they have the second best defence in the NFL, since they traded for All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith from the Chicago Bears during the season. The Baltimore defence is littered with stars but for their best chance of winning this game, they will need to win the upfront collisions and not give Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow any time to dissect their defence.

This puts a lot of pressure on veterans Calais Campbell and Jason Pierre Paul to make this happen. How the Cincinnati offence, and in particular their offensive line hold up against the Ravens, should tell us a lot about their Super Bowl credentials going forward. 

These teams are well acquainted with each other from the AFC North and even more so as the Bengals beat the Ravens only a week ago. The Bengals offence versus this Ravens defence is where the tastiest action will be.

I suspect that Joe Burrow and his receiving core will manage about 25-30 points and that should be enough for victory against a Baltimore side that has offered little in the passing game in the last half of the season even before Lamar went down. 

They are likely to try and find tight-end Mark Andrews on key third downs and they also have the option of Sammy Watkins over the top, but ultimately in my opinion,  they don’t have enough receivers who routinely get separation to cause the Bengals too many problems.

In contrast, the Bengals have an array of passing options with two young wideout studs in Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. The pair are ably supported by Tyler Boyd and Trenton Irwin and Burrow also likes to dump passes out the back field to running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. This helps in stretching out the field by creating space for the offence, while also tiring out their opposing linebackers, who must track and tackle the runners across the field.

The Ravens must not give Burrow any time to dissect their defence, if they want to win this game. This is easier said than done and I can’t see them being able to manage it for four quarters. 

For me even if Baltimore had Lamar, the Cincinnati have that extra gear to use if the game is close. It will be rough and tumble in the first two quarters but I expect the Bengals to pull away in the second half. 

Ravens 17-27 Bengals 

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