Here’s the good news: The Ravens are playing at home, where they’ve won 14 of their last 15 games, and they’re playing a team with a winning record, so a letdown performance isn’t a possibility.
Here’s the bad news: The Bengals are a pretty darn good football team.
The Ravens will be looking to bounce back from last Sunday’s frustrating performance in Seattle with a division win against the 6-3 Bengals, but that won’t be an easy task. Marvin Lewis’ team always gives the Ravens trouble, and the fellas from Cincinnati have taken three of the last four games in this matchup.
Here’s how these two division rivals match up statistically entering this week:
Ravens: 340.7 yards per game (15th)
Bengals: 312.1 yards per game (24th)
Ravens: 99.0 ypg (22nd)
Bengals: 104.7 ypg (20th)
Ravens: 241.7 ypg (11th)
Bengals: 207.4 ypg (23rd)
Ravens: 284.7 ypg (3rd)
Bengals: 304.2 ypg (5th)
Ravens: 90.3 ypg (t-3rd)
Bengals: 86.8 ypg (2nd)
Ravens: 194.3 ypg (6th)
Bengals: 217.4 ypg (10th)
Ravens: +1 (t-13th)
Bengals: +3 (t-10th)
When you look at these teams, there are a lot of similarities in how they’ve had success so far this season.
Both have very strong defenses, especially against the run. They’re physical up front, force offenses into third-and-long situations and get off the field.
Offensively, both teams have playmaking running backs who are a focal point of their offense (insert your Ray Rice/Cam Cameron joke here) and have quarterbacks who take care of the football.
For Cincinnati, the offensive gameplan always seems to start with running back Cedric Benson, who has the most rushing yards of any back in the AFC North despite missing a game due to suspension. The Bengals lean on Benson to put them in manageable third-down situations and allow rookie quarterback Andy Dalton to make easy reads.
Dalton has been very impressive in his rookie season, throwing 14 touchdowns to nine interceptions and leading the Bengals’ offense with poise and confidence. The TCU product isn’t asked to do a ton deep down the field, but he manages the offense well, and has limited the mistakes that you often see from a rookie QB.
He could be without his top wide receiving threat Sunday, as rookie first-round pick AJ Green has yet to practice this week because of a knee injury.
The Bengals run a tough 4-3 defense, which is the same front that has given the Ravens trouble through parts of this season, and they use primarily a Cover-2 scheme on the back end, a look which has given quarterback Joe Flacco problems throughout his career.
Cincinnati suffered a big loss in their secondary last week when top cornerback Leon Hall went down for the year with an Achilles injury, but the Bengals still have a solid back end and a very tough front four. The Bengals rotate in a number of quality pass rushers, but defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Frostee Rucker - whose name I love - have led the way in that department this year.
For me, a big factor in this game will be whether Green ends up playing. If he’s on the field, the Ravens will have to account for the deep element of the passing game and can’t press up as much. Without Green, the Bengals will not have a receiver with more than 29 catches or 410 yards this season, and that big-play threat will not be as great.
At home, I see the Ravens coming back from a rough outing in Seattle and taking care of business. This Bengals team is tough and they always give the Ravens problems, but I don’t see them winning at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
Put me down for a 20-16 Ravens win.
What about you? Does Ray Lewis’ absence leave you thinking the Bengals might pull off the road win? Does Cincinnati’s 4-3 front and Cover-2 scheme on the back end concern you? Or do you think the Ravens bounce back and pick up another division win?
Who you got?