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Cincinnati Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens Odds & Game Pick (2021)

by October 22, 2021
The Case for the Bengals to Win Super Bowl LVI

The Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals will be duking it out for first place in the AFC North Sunday afternoon. Yes, you read that second team correctly. The 4-2 Cincinnati Bengals could hold first place in the division with a road win over the Ravens. Can Baltimore hold serve at home? Or will the upstart Bengals score a signature win? Let’s break it down.

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  • Opening line: Baltimore -8.5
  • Opening line: Baltimore -6.5
  • Total: 47

Are the Bengals for real? 

Could the Cincinnati Bengals be good? It’s tough to tell. Four of Cincinnati’s games have been settled by three points, and they’ve gone 2-2 in those close games. But last week’s performance against the Detroit Lions might have shown how much this team has improved.

Coming off a gut-wrenching loss to Green Bay in overtime, a road trip to Detroit with the Ravens on deck felt like the ultimate letdown spot. I even picked Detroit in my confidence pool to pull the upset against the Bengals, who came into the game 2-14-1 on the road under Zac Taylor.

But the Bengals not only won, but they also dominated. They out-gained Detroit 398-228 and held Detroit to 36 rushing yards in a 34-11 beat down.

On the surface, you may think an offense led by Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon, and Ja’Marr Chase is why Cincinnati has been prosperous this year. But, that’s not the case. Cincinnati’s defense has evolved into one of the league’s top units through six games. Cincinnati ranks fifth in defensive DVOA, eighth in pass defense DVOA, and fourth in run defense DVOA. In addition, the Bengals are one of four teams who rank in the top 10 in both pass and run DVOA.

The Bengals defense isn’t a star-powered unit. It’s filled with castoffs, specifically in the secondary, where Vonn Bell, Chidobe Awuzie, and Eli Apple play key roles. Free-agent addition Trey Hendrickson has paid off and leads the team with 5.5 sacks, and linebacker Logan Wilson is one of the most underrated defensive players in the league.

Offensively, the Bengals have been somewhat erratic. Cincinnati ranks 19th in offensive DVOA, 18th in passing DVOA, and 20th in rushing DVOA. Burrow has been pretty good in his second season and continues to show signs of being Cincinnati’s long-awaited franchise QB. The connection between him and Chase has seemingly picked up where it left off at LSU.

But as predicted, this unit’s biggest weakness is along the offensive line. Burrow has been sacked 16 times this year and has already been banged up a couple of times in this young season. Until the protection shores up, it’s hard to imagine this offense ever firing on all cylinders.

Burrow could be in for a long day against a blitz-heavy Baltimore defense that’s generated pressure on 26.4% of opponents’ dropbacks this season.

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Ravens are somehow on top of the AFC.

If you had told me in Week 1 that the banged-up Baltimore Ravens would be sitting atop the AFC entering Week 7, I would’ve been astonished. Instead, Baltimore has overcome much adversity, from a rash of injuries to an uncharacteristic meltdown in the season opener against the Raiders. Heck, the Ravens could be 6-0 despite losing Marcus Peters, J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and many more players to season-ending injuries.

That’s a testament to John Harbaugh as a coach. But Lamar Jackson also deserves some praise. Jackson has been asked to shoulder more of the load throwing the ball, and for the most part, he’s delivered. He’s currently got the highest completion percentage of his career, and he’s done a better job getting the ball to Marquise Brown on the outside. Yet, despite all the injuries, Baltimore still ranks 10th in passing and rushing DVOA.

Baltimore could be without its starting tackles in Week 7, as Ronnie Stanley was placed on IR and Alejandro Villanueva is questionable with a knee injury.

Baltimore’s defense hasn’t been nearly as dominant as it’s been in years past. The Ravens rank 14th in overall defensive DVOA 15th in pass-defense DVOA, and 13th in run defense DVOA. However, Baltimore’s secondary could be susceptible if Tavon Young can’t suit up. Wink Martindale will likely send a ton of pressure and hope his short-handed secondary can hold up against Cincinnati’s trio of pass-catchers.

Bottom Line

In his lone game against the Ravens in Week 5 of the 2020 season, Burrow was sacked seven times and threw for 183 yards and an interception. With Cincinnati’s offensive line not much improved, I foresee Burrow having a long day on the road.

But laying 6.5 points in this divisional showdown doesn’t feel great, as Cincinnati’s defense has the talent in the front seven to limit Baltimore’s running game, which is finally coming into form.

If I had to bet the side, I would take the points and bank on the Bengals’ defense. But know there’s a sizable coaching mismatch between Harbaugh and Taylor. The Ravens have dominated this rivalry since Taylor started in 2019, going 4-0 and outscoring the Bengals 137-36.

With that in mind, I feel more comfortable making a play on the under. The Ravens should be able to bother Burrow all day and keep Mixon in check. And I trust Cincinnati’s defense can hold its own here.

Pick: Under 47

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Matt Barbato is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Matt, check out his archive and follow him @RealMattBarbato.

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