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John Harbaugh, Ravens should beat banged-up Bengals

It’s a bigger weekend for his younger brother, but Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh is also facing a hated rival from Ohio in a must-win game.

Harbaugh despises the Cincinnati Bengals because he’s lost to them five consecutive times. If the streak hits six on Sunday, Baltimore (5-5) will be a long shot to win the AFC North and reach the playoffs.

“If we don’t start beating the Bengals,” Harbaugh said this week, “we’re not going to win any division championships.”

The good news for Harbaugh is it’s an ideal time to beat the Bengals, a dispirited 3-6-1 team that’s limping down the stretch. Cincinnati’s best player, wideout A.J. Green, is out with a hamstring injury. Green has torched the Ravens, averaging 120 yards receiving and scoring six touchdowns in the teams’ past five meetings.

And the news for the Bengals got even worse when their most valuable running back, Giovani Bernard, was lost to a season-ending knee injury last week.

So, it’s time for Steve Smith, Terrell Suggs and the other tough-talking Ravens to show up. It’s the other team dealing with the injuries this time. No more excuses.

With the Bengals seemingly defining what is a bet-against team at this point, I’ll back Baltimore as a 4-point home favorite in what should not be a close game.

It won’t be close if Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco shows up. But Flacco is an up-and-down player who has been mostly down against Cincinnati, passing for four touchdowns with seven interceptions in his past four losses to the Bengals.

It won’t be close if Baltimore’s defense — No. 5 in the NFL in scoring (18.7 points per game) and No. 1 against the run (76 yards per game) — backs up its statistics and makes life rough on quarterback Andy Dalton.

Jim Harbaugh is coaching an arguably bigger game Saturday, when he takes Michigan on the road to face Ohio State. At worst, the Harbaugh brothers should get a weekend split, because there’s no excuse for the Ravens to lose.

Four more picks for Week 12 (home team in CAPS):

■ RAIDERS (-3) over Panthers: With linebacker Luke Kuechly healthy, the Carolina defense would be challenged to slow Derek Carr and the Raiders’ big-play wideouts. Kuechly is out with a concussion. Oakland has been a bad bet at home — 3-9 against the spread under coach Jack Del Rio — but Carr is on a roll. The Panthers can win only if quarterback Cam Newton plays the best game of his disappointing season.

■ Chiefs (+3½) over BRONCOS: It’s usually ugly, yet Kansas City is 17-3 in its past 20 regular-season games. A lackluster Chiefs offense will miss injured wideout Jeremy Maclin, making matters more difficult for Alex Smith. But quarterback Trevor Siemian has not been much of a playmaker for a stagnant Denver offense.

■ Jets (+7½) over PATRIOTS: New England coach Bill Belichick has a banged-up team, though it appears Tom Brady will start despite a sore knee. On one good leg, Brady will outplay Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. An improved New York defense might not make this easy on the Patriots, who are 0-5-1 ATS in their past six meetings with the Jets. Expect a strong effort from the home ‘dog.

■ Packers (+4) over EAGLES: This, like the Jets pick, will not be an actual bet. But I have to pick five sides, so I’ll give Green Bay one more try. Aaron Rodgers said he’s optimistic the 4-6 Packers “can run the table.” That is highly unlikely, but Rodgers is capable of covering this one.

Last week: 2-3 against the spread

Season: 24-27-4

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

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