Ravens run offense vs. Bengals run defense: Like they've done the past two weeks, the Ravens will look to pound the ball between the tackles. Ray Rice is hitting his stride, gaining 153 and 92 yards in back-to-back games. Getting Rice involved usually leads to success. The Ravens are 5-1 when Rice carries the ball over 20 times. Rice gained 87 yards at Cincinnati earlier this season and averaged 5.4 yards per carry. The Bengals have the 20th-ranked run defense in the NFL, but they haven't allowed a running back to gain over 66 yards rushing the last three games. The Ravens' Willis McGahee has contributed a total of 87 yards rushing the past two games.
Ravens pass offense vs. Bengals pass defense: Since throwing four interceptions against the Bengals in Week 2, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown 24 touchdowns and four interceptions over the next 13 games. His 61.6 career quarterback rating vs. the Bengals is his lowest against any team he's faced more than once. The Ravens could exploit Cincinnati with short passes to Rice, who is a matchup problem for middle linebacker Dhani Jones. With teams taking away Anquan Boldin, wide receiver Derrick Mason has six touchdowns in his past eight games. Tight end Todd Heap (hamstring), who has been out for three games, is questionable. Starting cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who has picked off Flacco twice over the past three games, is questionable with an ankle injury and would be replaced by Jonathan Wade, who has missed the past two games with a knee injury. Rookie end Carlos Dunlap leads the Bengals with eight sacks while no other Bengals player has more than 2 ½.
Bengals run offense vs. Ravens run defense: Cedric Benson isn't the same running back who gained 100 yards rushing in consecutive meetings last season. He has been held under 2.5 yards per carry in four of his past five games. Cincinnati remains committed to giving the ball to Benson (his 300 carries ranks fourth in the NFL) despite his lack of production (his 3.5 yards per carry is the worst in the NFL among the league's top 35 rushers). The Ravens' run defense looks like it's back on track. The Ravens limited Cleveland's Peyton Hillis to 35 yards just one week after holding the New Orleans Saints to 27 yards rushing as a team. That has propelled the Ravens to No. 4 in the NFL in run defense. Ray Lewis had 10 tackles at Cincinnati in September.
Bengals pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense: The Bengals are playing without their top two wide receivers, Terrell Owens (knee) and Chad Ochocinco (ankle), and could be without starting tight end Jermaine Gresham (doubtful, knee). Wide receivers Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell combined for 211 yards last Sunday after totaling 194 yards in the previous 14 games. Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, who is 9-3 against the Ravens, threw four touchdowns last Sunday but he struggled the previous four weeks (three touchdowns and five interceptions). With Brian Leonard going on injured reserve, former Ravens draft pick Cedric Peerman becomes Cincinnati's third-down back. The Bengals are primarily using maximum protection, so that puts pressure on the Ravens secondary to cover the two or three targets running routes. The biggest matchup of the game is Terrell Suggs vs. Cincinnati's Andrew Whitworth, who hasn't allowed a sack against an AFC North opponent in the two years he's been starting at left tackle.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Billy Cundiff is a Pro Bowl kicker who has made 21 of his past 22 field-goal tries and is three touchbacks shy of breaking the 12-year NFL record. Bengals kicker Clint Stitser has made all seven field-goal attempts but the rookie has missed two extra points. Ravens punter Sam Koch ranks second in the league with 37 punts inside the 20-yard line. The Bengals' Kevin Huber is 26th in the NFL with a 42.2-yard average. Ravens rookie kickoff returner David Reed (wrist and head) is questionable. This marks the first Ravens game for long snapper Kevin Houser, who has replaced the injured Morgan Cox.
INTANGIBLES: The Bengals have had the Ravens' number recently, winning six of the past eight meetings including the past three. But Cincinnati comes to M&T Bank Stadium with double-digit losses, its top two wide receivers sidelined and a head coach possibly on his way out. Even though the Ravens clinched a playoff berth last Sunday, they still are playing for the AFC North title. They can win the division and earn a first-round bye in the postseason if they beat the Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers lose at Cleveland. The Bengals have lost five straight on the road, including their last three by 16 points each. The Ravens have won eight straight season finales played at home.
Prediction: Flacco and the Ravens won't have any problems redeeming themselves from their earlier loss to the Bengals. But their celebration will be tempered by the Steelers capturing the AFC North in Cleveland. The Ravens' road to the Super Bowl will once again be playoff games on the road.