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The Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals will face each other at Paycor Stadium for the second straight week, but the stakes will be much higher this time. The Bengals are coming off a 27-16 victory against the Ravens in which they made winning look easy. After the game, several Bengals defensive players made it very clear they were furious with the actions of several members of the Ravens offense, but they stopped short of providing names and details. Divisional rivalry? Check. Spite? Check. My girlfriend thinking about Joe Burrow while we are getting intimate with one another. Che…wait, what? Anyway, let’s get to breaking down this game.
The good news for the Ravens is that they signed Roquan Smith to a five-year contract extension, so they have their defensive cornerstone of the future for the next half a decade…the bad? It’s not looking like Lamar Jackson will play on Sunday. As evident by the fact that they’ve lost three of their last four, Baltimore is a much stronger team when they have the real Lamar behind center as opposed to either of the two fake Lamar Jacksons (Tyler Huntley and Anthony Brown). Coach John Harbaugh told the media on Monday that he is unsure whether Jackson will play Sunday but noted the signal-caller is doing everything in his power to get cleared to take the field. Even without Lamar Jackson starting, the Ravens can win this game.
Baltimore has built their identity on sporting a dominant defense and hoping it can run its way into a few touchdowns. When this strategy works, it works wonders, as the Ravens are holding their opponents to a measly 18.5 points per game (good for third in the league) while running for 160.0 yards per game (good for second in the league). Last week, the Ravens limited the Bengals to just 257 yards of total offense, and had they not gifted the Bengals with four turnovers of their own, they would have won the game. Because the Bengals now have TWO key players along their offensive line injured (Alex Cappa and La’el Collins), a Ravens defense that had the fifth-most sacks per game this season should put Joe Burrow under more duress than a liberal mayor puts on a city. With Burrow under pressure, Zac Taylor will have to run the football, something the Bengals don’t particularly do well (29th in the league) and something the Ravens defend on an elite level (3rd in the league). The key for Baltimore is to limit mistakes and put Joe Burrow under more pressure than Henry Hill when he was asked what do you mean I’m funny? in Goodfellas.
But that’s much easier said than done. Sunday’s victory brought the Bengals to the 12-win mark for just the fourth time in the franchise’s history. The Bengals haven’t lost since Halloween, and their receiving core might be the most dangerous thing to come out of Cincinnati since our sweet prince escaped his exhibit in 2016. Even if Lamar Jackson does play, the Bengals still have everything they need to win this game. On two of those occasions, in 1981 and 1988, Cincinnati reached the Super Bowl. In the second half of the season, the Bengals have averaged 314 yards per game, outscored opponents 190-131, and Joe Burrow put together an MVP-type campaign. Their defense allowed one 300+ passing game, gave up an average of 79.6 total rushing yards per game, and it’s not like they’re going into this playoffs without experience. If Tyler Huntley goes against this red-hot Bengals team…it could be a bigger blowout than the National Championship was earlier this week. Last weekend, Joe Burrow just broke his own franchise record for touchdowns in a season (35), and he’s now the NFL’s all-time leader in completion percentage. Ja’MArr Chase now has back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in his first two years in the league. Hell, people have been arguing over whether Ja’Marr Chase (1,046 yards) or Tee Higgins (1,029) deserved Chase’s Pro Bowl nod. That’s probably the best problem you can have if you run a franchise.
Can the Bengals run the football well? Eh. Does it really matter? No. By his measures, Joe Burrow had a below-average game last week, and Cincinnati still won easily. The Bengals have a balanced defense that’s been especially good against the run (the only thing Baltimore excels at), and a Ravens defense allowing 232.2 yards per game is toast if Joe Burrow can get the ball out of his hand quickly. Vegas likes the Bengals -11.5, and while Cincinnati will win, the Ravens will cover. Want a chance to put some money in your pocket for a long weekend in February? Take the Bengals moneyline and get your $200 when a td is scored!
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