4. Joe Flacco will use tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta early and often to set up a deep strike to rookie Torrey Smith. Without Anquan Boldin to work the intermediate part of the field last week, the Ravens struggled in the passing game, completing only two passes to wide receivers. Flacco will need to use his tight ends wisely early in the game to divert attention away from Smith, who caught six passes for 165 yards in his first meeting with the Bengals. If Dickson and Pitta can find open space to move the chains, it could force the safeties closer to the line of scrimmage and create the ideal one-on-one matchup for Smith down the field against either Nate Clements or Adam Jones. Until Lee Evans and the other receivers prove they can make any kind of contribution at all, the pressure falls on Smith to make big plays as a vertical threat. Productive days by Dickson and Pitta will make that possible, allowing Smith to cash in on a long touchdown. The Cincinnati defense has also accumulated 44 sacks this season, making it even more important for Flacco to get the ball away quickly to his tight ends and to Rice out of the backfield.
5. The Ravens will not score enough to keep up with Cincinnati, falling 27-20 and likely putting themselves back on the road for the postseason. This would be a difficult road matchup for the Ravens at full health, but it becomes even more daunting with Boldin and Yanda on the sidelines and a shaky kicking situation. Fans and experts alike have pulled out their hair trying to explain the Ravens’ road struggles as they’ve turned the ball over, failed to pressure the quarterback, and generally played without any rhythm offensively in their four losses. Yes, the Ravens have said all week they’re treating this like a playoff game and understand the significance of a first-round bye with the many injuries they’re dealing with right now. That said, the Bengals are fighting for their playoff lives, and the Ravens know they will be playing another game no matter what transpires at Paul Brown Stadium, giving the psychological edge to Cincinnati. For most of the season, we’ve called their road woes an anomaly, but when it happens over and over again, you have to eventually recognize it as the norm. The Ravens are a better overall team than the Bengals, but they won’t be on Sunday afternoon. Baltimore simply isn’t a very good football team away from M&T Bank Stadium, and that reality will likely force the Ravens to go on the road in January unless the Cleveland Browns can upset the Steelers on Sunday.