Ravens run offense vs. Bengals run defense - - EDGE BENGALS
Earlier in the season, this would have been a mismatch, but the Bengals have gotten better and the Ravens' production has dropped in the past three games. The Ravens' front five should be able to handle the Bengals' front four, but Cincinnati has agile linebackers in Brian Simmons and Takeo Spikes who run a lot of stunts. The linebacking crew gave the Ravens fits in the last meeting. The Ravens are No. 17 in the league in run offense; the Bengals are No. 14 in rushing defense.
Ravens pass offense vs. Bengals pass defense - - EDGE RAVENS
The Ravens' pass offense has improved since training camp, but still lacks a clutch receiver inside the 20-yard line. The Ravens won't get much of a test today because the Bengals have a horrendous secondary. Wide receivers Qadry Ismail and Patrick Johnson should be able to get some big plays against cornerbacks Rodney Heath and Atrell Hawkins, especially in the deep middle. The Bengals are allowing 236.6 passing yards a game.
Bengals run offense vs. Ravens run defense - - EDGE RAVENS
This will be interesting because running back Corey Dillon has been hot, but the Ravens' front seven hasn't given up 100 yards rushing to any runner this season. The Ravens should be able to take advantage of the Bengals' lackluster tackle play, especially Rod Jones on the left side. The Ravens' tackles, Tony Siragusa and Larry Webster, will force the Bengals to run outside.
Bengals pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense - - EDGE BENGALS
This is no contest. The Ravens' cornerbacks, Duane Starks, Chris McAlister and DeRon Jenkins, can't handle Bengals receivers Darnay Scott and Carl Pickens. Look for Cincinnati to try to get Pickens isolated on Jenkins, against whom he has had a lot of success. The Bengals also will use a lot of play-action passes to slow the Ravens' pass rush. If the Ravens can get a rush on quarterback Jeff Blake, it will help neutralize the passing attack.
Special teams - - EDGE EVEN
The Ravens have a clear advantage in the kicking game with kicker Matt Stover over Doug Pelfrey and punter Kyle Richardson against rookie Brad Costello. The Bengals have better return and coverage units. The winner of the special teams battle might win the game.
Intangibles - - EDGE EVEN
Cincinnati has won three straight and would like to close out the season strong. A good finish might even save coach Bruce Coslet's job. The Bengals also feel they should have won the last meeting between the two teams on Nov. 21, a 34-31 Ravens victory. The Ravens have won four of their past five and are still in playoff contention. This is the first time in four years the Ravens are playing meaningful games in December. Both teams have a lot to play for.
Prediction - - EDGE RAVENS
The Bengals have had two weeks to feel good about themselves, which is one week too many. Ravens, 30-28.