The Baltimore Ravens are atop the AFC North, but are smarting after blowing a 14-point lead in the final 10 minutes Sunday and losing on the game’s final play.

The Cincinnati Bengals, who are coming off their own loss on a last-second field goal, have won the last two AFC North crowns, but to legitimately have any chance of making it three in a row – or to simply make the playoffs, for that matter – they need a victory in Baltimore on Thursday Night Football (on Amazon Prime Video).

It’s a short week for a pair of division rivals who will be looking to bounce back from painful losses at kickoff. And for the Bengals, they’re seeking a needed win at M&T Bank Stadium to stay in the playoff picture.

After last Thursday night’s snoozefest between the Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears, our SmartRatings has tabbed this matchup as the second-highest rated game of the NFL Week 11 slate behind only the Philadelphia Eagles-Kansas City Chiefs highly anticipated Super Bowl rematch on Monday night.

Heading into the week, the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs and red-hot Cleveland Browns are the only AFC teams with a higher chance of making the playoffs than the Ravens, according to our prediction model.

AFC Playoff Projections

AFC playoff picture

Baltimore sits atop the AFC North with a 7-3 record and although it suffered a disappointing 33-31 loss to Cleveland last Sunday to tighten things up atop the division, the Ravens could be in the driver’s seat now that the 6-3 Browns have lost Deshaun Watson to a season-ending shoulder injury and are turning to rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson at quarterback.

The Bengals’ current probability to win the division is at 3.7%, and that figure will drop close to zero with a loss this Thursday, as they’d fall 2.5 games back of the Ravens and lose out on the head-to-head tiebreaker after Baltimore won the season’s first matchup 27-24 back in Week 2.

A loss this week would also make it extremely difficult for Cincinnati to even make the playoffs.

Although they’re the first team outside the top seven in the AFC, our model gives the Bengals just a 23.2% chance of punching a ticket to the playoffs. A big reason they have an uphill climb is because they beefed up their record by going 4-0 against the NFC West, so a loss to the Ravens would drop them to 1-5 against the AFC, meaning they’ll lose out most tiebreaking scenarios.

They’re facing long odds, but they’ve been in this position before. This is the third straight season Cincinnati is 5-4 after nine games played, and each of the last two years it has made late-season runs to reach the conference title game.

In 2021 and 2022, the Bengals won in Week 11 to improve to 6-4, and they’ll likely need the same result this year to keep alive any hope of returning to the playoffs.

Conversely, Baltimore enters Week 11 atop the AFC North for the fourth time in the last five seasons, but it hasn’t finished in first place since 2019.

The Bengals ousted the Ravens from last season’s playoffs with a 24-17 win in the wild-card round – a game Lamar Jackson sat out due to a PCL injury – and Baltimore could essentially bounce Cincinnati from this year’s playoff conversation with a win this time.

Sportsbooks have made Baltimore a 3.5-point favorite and our model views the Ravens as the best bets with a 69.3% win probability and a projected score of 27-20.

Bengals Ravens projections

CIN Key: Get Chase the Ball

It’s obvious, but for the underdog Bengals to have a realistic chance of pulling out a win, they’re going to need to score some points. And the best way for Cincinnati to pile up the points is to make sure Ja’Marr Chase is a big part of the offensive game plan.

The Ravens are fifth in the league in scoring at 27.0 points per game, and in their last four games, they’ve scored 38, 31, 37 and 31. The franchise has only had one longer streak of consecutive games scoring 30 or more points and that was a five-game run during Jackson’s MVP season in 2019.

The Bengals, meanwhile, have only reached the 30-point mark twice all season.

And would you believe that in those games – a 34-20 win over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 5 and 31-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 8 – Chase was highly involved in the offense.

The star wide receiver had a career-high 15 receptions for 192 yards with three touchdowns against the Cardinals and caught 10 passes for 100 yards with a TD against the 49ers.

Chase is enjoying another Pro Bowl-caliber season, as his 69 receptions are tied for fourth and his 821 receiving yards are tied for seventh. Among the 47 receivers who have been targeted at least 50 times, his burn rate of 69.7 ranks third while his open percentage of 84.8 ranks fifth.

In the Bengals’ 30-27 loss to the Houston Texans this past Sunday, however, he was only targeted six times and finished with five catches. One of the grabs, though, was a 64-yard touchdown reception and he finished with 124 receiving yards.

Still, for the Bengals to succeed, Joe Burrow needs to find Chase more often.

Since his rookie season, the Bengals are merely a .500 team when Chase has six or fewer receptions, splitting 22 such games, but they’re nearly unbeatable when he catches at least seven passes, going 13-3.

That .813 winning percentage is the best in the NFL among receivers with a minimum of 15 games of seven or more receptions since 2021.

Best Team Record With 7+ Receptions Since 2021 (Min. 15 Games)

  1. Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals (13-3)
  2. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs (13-4)
  3. CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys (12-4)
  4. Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings (15-6)
  5. Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills (16-7)

In the first meeting of the season with the Ravens, Chase was limited to five receptions and a season-low 31 yards. He hit the magic number of seven receptions in each of his first five matchups against Baltimore, with Cincinnati winning four times.

While it’s easy to say that Burrow must throw the ball to Chase more, it’s obviously not that simple. Tee Higgins, who ranks third on the Bengals in receptions (27) and receiving yards (328), will miss a second straight game with a hamstring injury, and his absence means the Ravens can pay extra attention to Chase.

Baltimore’s defense can also anticipate more passes because Joe Mixon and Cincinnati simply can’t run.

The Bengals’ 74.8 rushing yards per game ranks last, their 3.62 yards per carry is the NFL’s fifth-worst mark, their run success percentage is the eighth worst at 31.7% and their percentage of rushing plays going for 10+ yards of 13.5 is the fourth-worst rate.

In Sunday’s loss, they ran the ball on just 16 of their 60 offensive plays (26.7%) and finished with 66 rushing yards, already their seventh game this season with 75 yards or fewer. They had eight such games all of last season, which is tied for the most in a single season in franchise history.

In the first meeting of the season with the Ravens, they ran 15 times for 66 yards, with only one rush going for at least 10.

But one advantage Cincinnati has in the rematch, is it appears Ravens Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey will sit out with an injured calf. Another is Burrow also healthy this time after he aggravated a calf injury in the first meeting. He had 347 passing yards last week, though did have two costly fourth-quarter interceptions.

Without a viable ground game, however, Baltimore’s defense will be keyed in on stopping Burrow and the passing game, and especially be primed to shut down Chase.

With the exception of Chase, Cincinnati’s offense doesn’t have a lot of players that strike fear in opposing defenses right now, so Burrow will have to do whatever he can to get him the ball.

BAL Key: Run, Run, Run

While the Bengals struggle to run the ball, the Ravens are the NFL’s top running team. And on top of that, Cincinnati can’t stop the run.

Baltimore leads the NFL in rushing yards per game (154.9), is second in average rushing yards per attempt (4.78), ninth in run success percentage (38.0) and has a league-best 43 runs of at least 10 yards.

On the flip side, Cincinnati is 30th in opponent rushing yards allowed per game (136.2), 31st in opponent rushing average (5.05), 30th in opponent run success percentage (39.9) and has surrendered a league-high 40 runs of 10+ yards.

worst run success%

Against the Texans four days ago, the Bengals were gashed by Texans backup running back Devin Singletary for 150 rushing yards.

In the season’s first matchup between these teams, with the Ravens playing their first game since lead back J.K. Dobbins was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon sustained in Week 1, Baltimore ran 37 times for 178 yards. Gus Edwards scored the game’s first touchdown on a 1-yard plunge and finished with a team-high 62 yards on 10 carries, while fellow back Justice Hill ran for 41 yards on 11 rushes.

Jackson, as you would expect, was also part of the ground attack, running 12 times for 54 yards, and was effective at moving the ball through the air, completing 24-of-33 passes for 237 yards with two touchdowns. He wasn’t intercepted and wasn’t sacked and compiled a 112.8 passer rating.

With the victory, Jackson improved to 7-1 as a starter against the Bengals in his career, and he’s routinely run all over them, rushing for 642 yards. In the Super Bowl-era, only one quarterback has more rushing yards against a single team – Cam Newton rushing for 810 yards against the Atlanta Falcons, but he had nearly twice as many opportunities (16-9).

Most Rushing Yards by QB vs. Any Single Opponent (Super Bowl Era)

  1. Cam Newton vs. Atlanta Falcons (810)          
  2. Lamar Jackson vs. Cincinnati Bengals (642)      
  3. Lamar Jackson vs. Cleveland Browns (638)         
  4. Randall Cunningham vs. Washington (629)
  5. Steve Young vs. Atlanta Falcons (624)  

While Jackson is always a threat to scramble out of the pocket, the Ravens can also gain yardage on the ground with Edwards, Hill and new weapon Keaton Mitchell (200 total yards, two TDs in the last two games) behind a stout offensive line.

Led by Edwards’ 502 rushing yards, Baltimore is the only team in the NFL to have three players with a least 250 rushing yards, with Jackson at 481 and Hill with 258.

And over the last four weeks, the two Baltimore backs have excelled at picking up yards before being touched with the offensive line creating substantial holes.

Highest Average Yards Before Contact Since Week 7 (Min. 20 Carries)

  1. Joshua Kelley, Los Angeles Chargers (4.33)
  2. Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions (4.16)                 
  3. Justice Hill, Baltimore Ravens (3.61)         
  4. Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens (3.17)            
  5. Jaylen Warren, Pittsburgh Steelers (3.16)  

The two should again find plenty of room to run in a matchup with a Bengals team that is allowing an average of 3.2 rushing yards before contact – the league’s second-worst rate.

The Bengals defense is also vulnerable through the air – its average of 7.86 yards allowed per pass attempt ranks 30th – but it’s also opportunistic. The Bengals’ 12 interceptions are one fewer than the 49ers for the most in the NFL, with Cam Taylor-Britt intercepting four passes and Logan Wilson picking off three.

It’s no big secret the Ravens will attempt to establish the ground game against a Bengals defensive front that is being blown off the line of scrimmage.

As long as Baltimore stays committed to the run, it should be able to take one step closer to the AFC North crown while dashing any division hopes for Cincinnati.

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