Week 17 Free NFL Picks: Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals NFL Week 17 Vegas Odds, Free Picks, and Expert Predictions on CBS 1/1/12: Playoff implications abound when the Baltimore Ravens (11-4) travel to Paul Brown Stadium to face the Cincinnati Bengals (9-6) Sunday afternoon. The Bengals need to win to ensure themselves of a playoff spot, and while the Ravens already have a spot in the postseason, Baltimore still has plenty to play for. A victory will clinch the AFC North title for Baltimore and give them a first-round bye. Heck, the Ravens could even end up with home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win and a loss by the New England Patriots. Needless to say, there is plenty at stake for these two division rivals, and there will be no shortage of intensity. The Ravens defeated the Bengals in Baltimore earlier this year and are 1 ½-point favorites in the rematch.

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On paper, a matchup between these two teams would figure to be a defensive battle. The Ravens are allowing less than 200 yards passing, less than 100 yards rushing and just 16.6 points per game to opponents. Meanwhile, the Bengals are giving up less than 100 yards rushing per game as well and less than 20 points. Despite fielding two of the top-rated defenses in the NFL, the first between the two teams turned into a shootout, with the Ravens holding on for a 31-24 win. The numbers say points should be tough to come by, but it’s tough to rule out a high-scoring game given the results from earlier this year.

Regardless of the pace of the game, quarterback play is going to be crucial for the success of both teams. While Baltimore would appear to have an edge with the experienced Joe Flacco under center, Bengals’ rookie Andy Dalton actually has the better numbers. Dalton has thrown more touchdowns and completed a higher percentage of passes than Flacco. In fact, Flacco has already tied a career-high in interceptions and has the worst completion percentage of his career. Not to mention the fact that Dalton outplayed Flacco in the first meeting, throwing for a career-best 373 yards.

Of course, the Bengals have to do more than slow down Flacco in order to win the game. In the first meeting, Baltimore running back Ray Rice ran for more than 100 yards and two touchdowns against the normally stout Bengals’ defense. Rice has more than 1,000 yards on the year, and while he didn’t gash the Cincinnati defense, he did force the unit to honor the run. As a result, the play-action passing game was opened up, and rookie receiver Torrey Smith was able to have a big game. Smith has been the top deep threat for the Baltimore offense all year, and if the Bengals fail to slow him down, the Ravens could be on their way to a division title.

The X-factor in the game could be Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green. The rookie missed the first game with Baltimore, but he will be on the field Sunday. Green has already topped 1,000 yards and was named to the Pro Bowl. With his top target on the field, Dalton and the Bengals may have enough firepower to get over the hump and secure a spot in the playoffs.

There is no question that the Bengals are going to be pumped to play in front of their home fans with a playoff spot on the line. That being said, this Ravens’ team is a veteran, playoff-tested group that is more than capable of weathering an early storm. Much like the first meeting, both offenses will likely hit some big plays, but the added dimension of Rice running the ball gives the Ravens an edge. More importantly, the Baltimore defense has a few more playmakers and it showed in the first meeting when the unit picked off Dalton twice. The Bengals are currently 0-3 against Baltimore and Pittsburgh this season, and this young group just isn’t ready to overtake the division powerhouses.

Prediction: Baltimore Ravens (-1) Cover the Spread

Free NFL Football Picks and Predictions: Baltimore -1

Week 17 NFL Football: Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals
Date: 1/1/2012
Time: 4:15 PM EST on CBS
Vegas Odds - Favorite: Baltimore -1 | Total: Over/Under 37.5

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