Ravens vs Bengals

Ravens vs Bengals: The Ravens are four-point favorites over the visiting Cincinnati Bengals despite uncertainty at quarterback that kept most Las Vegas sportsbooks from posting a betting line until Saturday.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh confirmed Monday that starting quarterback Joe Flacco is dealing with a right hip injury, and Flacco was listed Friday as doubtful to play. Rookie Lamar Jackson is expected to start if Flacco cannot play, but Harbaugh has said Robert Griffin III would also be under consideration.

The game is the Ravens’ first since Week 3 in which the spread has been more than a field goal. In the teams’ first meeting, a 34-23 Bengals home victory, the Ravens were also favored, by just a point.

After strong starts to the season, both teams have floundered of late. The Ravens have lost three straight games and four of their past five, while Cincinnati fired defensive coordinator Teryl Austin on Monday after its third loss in four games. Both teams are 4-5 against the spread this season.

The over-under for the game is 43½ points.

Basics

Kickoff: 1 p.m., M&T Bank Stadium
TV: Channel 13, WJZ (Baltimore) CBS Crew (Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon, Steve Tasker)
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM) and 98Rock (97.9 FM)
Jersey color: Black
Stakes

The Ravens (4-5) badly need a win, riding a three-game losing streak and coming off a bye. A victory would leave the Ravens squarely in the AFC wild-card picture, tied with Cincinnati (5-4) for second place in the AFC North. But a loss would drop the Ravens to 4-6 with just six games remaining. It would also give Cincinnati a season sweep over the Ravens. At that point, a six-game winning streak might be the only way for Baltimore to reach the playoffs.

The Bengals lead the all-time series, 23-22, and have won the last two meetings and eight of the last 10. In Week 2, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton threw three touchdown passes to A.J. Green in the first half, igniting Cincinnati to a 34-23 win. Last season, the Bengals crushed Baltimore’s playoff hopes with a 31-27 victory in the regular-season finale. Dalton found wide receiver Tyler Boyd for a 49-yard touchdown pass in the game’s final minute.
Key Storylines

Who will be the Ravens’ starting quarterback?

Head Coach John Harbaugh played coy all week, declining to reveal his starter until Sunday. Joe Flacco was listed as doubtful (hip), but Harbaugh said Flacco could still play. Lamar Jackson missed practice Thursday with an illness but he returned to practice Friday and declared himself “good” for Sunday. Robert Griffin III was the only quarterback who didn’t miss practice this week, and he could start as well. There will be high interest if Jackson makes his first NFL start, especially with so much on the line. How much will the offense change with Jackson at the helm, and how effective will he be as a passer? Those much-anticipated questions could be answered Sunday.

No matter who starts at quarterback, the Ravens need to play better than they did in October. Harbaugh has an 8-2 career record after the bye, and there will be some new wrinkles. Jackson was expected to play more over the final seven games, even before Flacco suffered his hip injury against Pittsburgh. Whatever Jackson’s role, the Ravens need to become more explosive offensively and more opportunistic defensively. Baltimore’s defense has produced just seven takeaways in nine games.

Can the Ravens exploit Cincinnati’s struggling defense?

The Bengals’ defense ranks last in the NFL, surrendering more than 500 yards in each of their last three games. Head Coach Marvin Lewis took over the reigns after firing Defensive Coordinator Teryl Austin on Monday. Former Browns Head Coach Hue Jackson has been added to Cincinnati’s staff as an assistant coach. Lewis and Jackson have work to do, but the Bengals’ defense has been historically good against Baltimore.

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