As the NFL Playoffs approach, we take a look at the tight race between Baltimore and Cincinnati, and outline why the Ravens have what it takes to top the AFC North Division.
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It was a wild Week 15 around the NFL, with last-second finishes and amazing comebacks affecting the AFC and NFC playoff pictures.
And while neither game came down to the wire, the race in the AFC North between the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals took a turn in the favor of the orange and black.
The Ravens’ offense struggled throughout a 13-3 loss in Cleveland. Meanwhile, the Bengals forced four second-half turnovers from Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, reeling off 28 straight points on their way to a 34-23 road victory.
Now Cincinnati stands a game ahead of the Ravens with three weeks remaining. Can Baltimore still pull this out? We believe so.
Let’s dive into our season reviews of both franchises thus far. Then, we will outline 4 reasons why Baltimore will win the battle of the AFC North Division.
Baltimore Ravens 2022/23 Season So Far
- Current Record: 9-5
- Current AFC North Standing: 2nd
Right up until Saturday, things looked great for the Ravens in 2022.
Yes, they started the season with a mediocre 3-3 record. But they then reeled off six wins in their next seven games to move atop the AFC North.
Their four losses – Miami, Buffalo, at the NY Giants, and at Jacksonville – were all tossup games (Baltimore’s four losses to that point came by a total of 12 points combined). Most importantly, the Ravens were taking care of business within the division – an important element for any tiebreakers.
On December 4 against Denver, however, the Ravens narrowly averted disaster when quarterback Lamar Jackson limped to the sidelines with a knee injury. Thankfully it wasn’t overly serious, but Jackson missed the remainder of that game and hasn’t played since.
Thanks to a suffocating defense and their excellent special teams, the Ravens survived Denver 10-9 and toppled the Pittsburgh Steelers the following week, 16-14, behind JK Dobbins’ breakout game (120 yards rushing and a touchdown.)
But it all came crashing down Saturday in Cleveland, where the Ravens committed two turnovers and lost the ball on fourth downs on three other occasions. Even Justin Tucker – the best kicker currently in the NFL and one of the best of all-time – missed a field goal and had another one blocked in the 13-3 loss.
The three points marked Baltimore’s lowest output in a game since 2008 and was the first time the Ravens went without a touchdown since 2018.
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Cincinnati Bengals 2022/23 Season So Far
- Current Record: 10-4
- Current AFC North Standing: 1st
At the start of the 2022 NFL season, the Bengals appeared destined for the dreaded “Super Bowl hangover”. This is an old legend that states teams who lose the Super Bowl – as Cincinnati did at the end of last season – tend to struggle the following season.
In reality, there’s little correlation between last year’s performance and this season’s results. The Bengals have proven that by reversing their 0-2 start with wins in 10 of their last 12 games, including a current streak of six straight wins.
By most measures, Cincinnati’s the hottest team in the NFL right now.
Sunday’s win against Tampa Bay was a prime example of how the team is more than just Joe Burrow and a flashy offense.
Burrow struggled early as the Bengals fell behind 17-6 but starting in the mid-third quarter the Cincinnati defense forced turnovers on four consecutive Tampa Bay possessions. Burrow and the offense cashed in with a touchdown pass each time.
By the end, the 34-23 game was indicative of Cincinnati’s season as a whole. Burrow finished with four touchdown passes, but none of it would have been possible without the defensive rally following halftime.
4 Reasons Why the Ravens Can Overtake the Bengals
With a one-game head start and riding a six-game winning streak, you’d think the smart money would be on Cincinnati to cruise to the 2022 AFC North Division title.
As of right now, the oddsmakers agree. The Bengals are -195 favorites to win the division, while the Ravens are listed at +155 (odds at FanDuel Sportsbook).
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But we’re not here to agree with the masses. Here are 4 reasons why Baltimore can finish top of the AFC North Division:
The Ravens got second-round pick defensive end David Ojabo for the first time on Saturday. Additionally, running backs JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards are rounding into form after missing time.
Most importantly, however, Lamar Jackson is expected to make a full return to practice this week. Barring any setbacks, he should start Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons. He’s only been out since December 4, so it shouldn’t take long for the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player to shake off the rust.
Each team has three games remaining, but their schedules are not built the same.
|at New England (7-7)
|at Cincinnati (10-4)
While the Bengals are toiling with a desperate Patriots team in Massachusetts and welcoming the AFC-leading Buffalo Bills, the Ravens get to work Lamar Jackson back into the lineup against Atlanta and Pittsburgh, two teams who may already have their eyes on 2023.
If the Ravens can just hold serve these next two weeks, it sets up a winner-take-all matchup with the Bengals in Week 18. Which leads us to…
Every sport has them. However, with only 17 games a season, they come into play quite a bit more often in the NFL.
Say the Ravens and Bengals finish with identical records. Who wins the division? The Ravens, that’s who. Here’s why:
- Baltimore beat Cincinnati 19-17 back in week five. If they beat the Bengals again in Week 18, they sweep the head-to-head matchup. And that’s the first tiebreaker.
- Even if the Bengals win in Week 18, if the records are tied the Ravens will win on the second tiebreaker, which is divisional record. The Bengals have lost once each to Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Baltimore. The Ravens have only last week’s loss to Cleveland on their record.
So, while the Ravens are starting with a one-game deficit and three games to play, all they need is a tie to clinch the AFC North and a first-round playoff game.
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Want another reason why Baltimore has the upper-hand?
Justin Tucker missed a kick this weekend and had another one blocked. Based on averages, that means he won’t miss again until the year 2025!
All joking aside, Tucker gives the Ravens a weapon no other team enjoys. But that’s not all – Baltimore’s special teams unit is ranked 2nd in the NFL as a whole, thanks in large part to Devin Duvernay.
Duvernay has one of only three kickoff returns for a touchdown in the entire league this year. He also averages 12 yards per punt return. This could be critical in Week 18, as Cincinnati switched punters just two weeks ago cutting veteran Kevin Huber in favor of Drue Chrisman.
The best divisional races this year, unfortunately, are in the weakest divisions. The NFC South will likely go to a team with a losing record, and the AFC South is a battle between 7-7 Tennessee and 6-8 Jacksonville.
But the AFC North offers some unique excitement. It’s a down-to-the-wire race between two legitimate Super Bowl contenders. And it could all be settled on the field, head-to-head, in Week 18. Of course, we’re backing Baltimore!