AFC North Lead Up For Grabs: Bengals And Ravens Week 5 Preview

John PhenAnalyst IIIOctober 9, 2009

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 04:  Ray Lewis #52 of the Baltimore Ravens argues a call in the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots on October 4, 2009 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots defeated the Ravens 27-21.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Coming into the 2009 season, it stood to reason that there would be a huge battle for the AFC North crown.

Only, instead of the Steelers being the active participant in this early season matchup, it’s the Bengals and Ravens meeting this week at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

The winner of this game would stand alone atop the division that most prognosticators thought would go to the Steelers with ease.

The Steelers are still very much a player in the North, despite a surprising 2-2 record headed into the contest. That said, the Ravens and Bengals are sure to put the utmost importance to this game with a strong emphasis on staying ahead of the pack in the division.

And staying ahead of the division is something that the Ravens lost when they fell against the Patriots last week 27-21. A couple of questionable calls favoring the Patriots ( what else is new? ) has the Ravens steaming. But like the Bengals, the Ravens must put their first loss behind them and move forward.

This is a very talented team that seems to be straying from what they were doing a year ago in that they are letting the air loose with Flacco. Look for a heavy dose of the running game to get dialed up, as I expect the Ravens to get back to their physical style of play on offense.

As far as the Bengals are concerned, this game is definitely the burden of proof in that their 3-1 record shows a marked improvement from where most pundits thought they’d be at the quarter mark. Minus a fluky play against the Broncos, and this team could easily be 4-0.

The Cincinnati defense has been playing well recently, with Antwan Odom leading the charge. Promising youngsters such as Leon Hall, Keith Rivers, and Rey Maualuga are also playing well. Veterans such as Roy Williams and Tank Johnson in Mike Zimmer’s defense are playing well and becoming key cogs in the defense. That is the real story for the Bengals this year.

Which Ravens offense will show up this week?

Will it be the ground and pound game with a controlled passing attack like last year? Or will Air Flacco continue to throw early and often? The Ravens have definitely opened my eyes averaging over 400 yards a game passing and Flacco already has over 1000 yards with eight touchdowns. Coming off a shaky performance against the Pats, it will be interesting to see how Flacco does against the Bengals defense.

Speaking of offense, what the heck is going on with Carson Palmer? Currently ranked 24th in passer rating, Carson looks like he might be missing T.J. just a tad. Despite his pedestrian numbers and rating, Palmer has been clutch when the Bengals have needed him to be. With a late TD to Chad Ochocinco to beat Cleveland, a late TD against the Steelers, and the wild 15-yard scramble to set up the winning field goal, Palmer has proven that he can win late and win when it counts.

Cedric Benson will have to fight for every inch and yard against the formidable Raven defense, which coming into this game has allowed a mere 59 yards on the ground per game.

The key matchup here for the Bengals on offense does not have to do with a skill position player per se, but rather the play of Andrew Whitworth against Terrell Suggs. Suggs is a pass rushing machine and must be slowed if Palmer is to have some time to look downfield.

Although I am sure the Bengals will put their best foot forward, I can’t force myself to take them this week. I think the Ravens at this stage are one of the stronger teams in the AFC and they don’t show signs of slowing down. They are two penalties and one dropped pass from beating the Patriots and being undefeated.

Bengals 10 – Ravens 24