It’s time for the NFL playoffs. The cream has risen to the top, as the sports cliche goes. And the teams that didn’t qualify are pondering why — and positioning themselves for the NFL Draft. The Cincinnati Bengals are coming into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league riding an eight-game win streak into the postseason. Cincinnati was able to clinch home-field advantage for the wild card round with a 27-16 win against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 18. Gridiron Heroics previews all of the NFL teams that open postseason play, and we’ll continue it through the entire playoffs.
NFL TEAM: Cincinnati Bengals
2022-23 RECORD: 12-4
WEEKEND OPPONENT: Baltimore Ravens (10-7). Date/Time: 1/15 at 7:15 p.m. Where to Watch: NBC
NFL WEEK ONE POSTSEASON SCHEDULE: Who is playing where and when?
TRENDING?: Cincinnati got off to a rough start to the season by dropping three of their first five games of the season. People were questioning of whether that the Bengals were suffering from a Super Bowl runner-up hangover, but they were able to silence that as the Bengals are hot at the right time. Cincinnati dropped to 4-4 after losing to the Browns on week 8. After that loss, the Bengals went on a eight-game win streak to secure a spot in the postseason. The streak is tied for the longest in franchise history and tied for the most regular season wins in franchise history.
WHAT IS GOING RIGHT?: What’s frightening about this Bengals team is that they are peaking at the right time and have momentum on their side. The offense for Cincinnati has been a strength for this team as Joe Burrow has played himself into the MVP conversation. The Bengals were still able to win games without their top reciever, Ja’Marr Chase, as he missed several weeks with an injury. Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd were able to fill in during Chase’s absence. The offensive line has improved from a slow start to the season and has given Burrow time in the pocket to make some plays down the field.
WHAT IS GOING WRONG?: The biggest flaw of the Bengals postseason run last year was the offensive line. Though the offensive line has improved from the start of the season, they have stilled allowed Burrow to be sacked 41 times. Cincinnati is down two starters on the offensive line: La’el Collins and Alex Cappa. Hakeem Adeniji and Max Scharping will have to step into a pivotal role. Paired with two starters being out on the offensive line, the running game has been inconsistent for the Bengals. It ranks bottom five in the league with just 95.5 yards per game
SURPRISE STAR THIS WEEKEND?: The Bengals running game will have a big challenge this weekend going up against a Ravens defense that ranks third in the league in points allowed and ninth in yards. The Ravens were able to shut down Joe Mixon to just 27 rushing yards, but Mixon was able to find the endzone on a one-yard touchdown run. If the running game can get going against Baltimore that will allow the Bengals to move the ball down the field against a tough Ravens defense.
THE KEY MATCHUP THIS WEEKEND?: Burrow has only found the endzone twice in the two matchups against the Ravens this season. He has shown in the past that he can have success against this Ravens defense by spreading the ball to his playmakers in open space. Burrow and the Bengals will have to be more consistent if they want to advance to the divisional round of the playoffs.
THE SUMMARY: The two teams met just a week ago with the Bengals evening up the season series at one game a piece. In their first meeting, Baltimore edged out a 19-17 win and in week 18 the Bengals took down the Ravens, 27-16. This weekend’s matchup will ultimately decide the tiebreaker for the season series against the two teams. The stakes in this rivalry game will be at an all-time high with a berth to the divisional round on the line.
THE PICK: Cincinnati by 7. WHY?: Cincinnati was able to defeat the Ravens last week against a Baltimore offense that struggled without Lamar Jackson. Jackson’s availability remains in serious question ahead of Saturday night’s matchup against the Bengals. Cincinnati’s offense has been firing on all cylinders and their defense has been able to carry the load. When it comes to the playoffs, postseason experience matters and the Bengals now have that after last year’s run to the Super Bowl. The Bengals will be hungry to finish the job this year and it starts with a victory over Baltimore.