The game this week against Cincinnati is one that the Ravens should win, but this is the sort of game that has tripped up this Ravens team before. The Ravens cannot afford to overlook the Bengals, and I don't think they will.
Whether or not you believe that Brian Billick deserved to be fired, two areas in which this years Ravens team has been drastically improved over previous years is that of Game Planning and Halftime Adjustments.
The Ravens enter this game as seven-point favorites, a line I think is just about right. If I were a betting man this would be a game I would avoid, I think the Ravens will win this game, and win it going away, but I can see several ways this could be a closer game than most people think.
The Ravens had to take an early bye week, this may come back to haunt them if they don't jump out to a big lead. Although this team has shown no sings of slowing down, the Bengals are on 10 days rest, and as we've seen over the years with the records of teams that play on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, every bit of extra rest helps.
I believe one of the reasons the Eagles were so outmatched by the Ravens last Sunday was playing that extra 25 percent of a football game the week before.
The last game the Bengals played was without Chad Johnson, this Ravens secondary had done fairly well against Ocho-Zero over the years, but we've also seen what a truly motivated Chad Johnson can do against the leagues best secondaries.
If Chad Johnson has decided not to mail in the rest of the season, and comes out with a positive attitude and a chip on his shoulder, it could be a long day for Frank Walker.
On the flip side, for a Ravens victory we need to see more of the same from the Ravens receivers. Solid, timely catches by Derrick Mason on third down, and the occasional big play from Figurs, or Clayton. If Jonathan Joseph is able to lock down Derrick Mason, Clayton or Heap could wind up with a big day receiving.
The key to this game should be the Ravens pass rush on Ryan Fitzpatrick. If the Ravens get no pressure, or allow Fitzpatrick to make plays with his feet, this game could get ugly for the Ravens in a hurry. This Defense must apply pressure early and often, this will force Fitzpatrick to make mistakes with the football and give the offense a shorter field to work with.
However, the Ravens must protect Joe Flacco when he needs to throw, something this young, patchwork line has done a great job of this year, and should continue to do. The Ravens and the Bengals are 29th and 30th in Passing Offense respectively, so don't look for a huge game from either of these quarterbacks.
I fully expect Fitzpatrick to throw for more yards than Flacco as I expect the Bengals to give up on the running game fairly early, as they realize it's not going to get going against the Ravens.
As usual, the Ravens will attempt to run the ball first, and the Bengals, as well as everyone in the stands, and everyone watching at home will be well aware of this fact. The Bengals will have 23 players, and a few fans from the stands in the box on first and second downs, and it still won't be enough.
The Bengals are giving up an average of 130 yards a game with their 24th ranked run defense. Look for a big day from the Ravens Three Headed Monster of running backs who are fourth in the league in total yards rushing. As for the Bengals' running game, there is a legitimate chance they end up rushing for less than two yards a carry.
The Bengals are 31st in the league in rushing, and are only running for 3.4 yards a carry, if Cedric Benson and Chris Perry average that against the Ravens, we could be talking about a Ravens loss come Monday morning.
Special teams is the one area besides the secondary that could be a concern for the Ravens. Too many times this year, the Ravens have given up big plays for the opposition on special teams, and Glenn Holt is a dangerous returner if given space.
Yamon Figures really needs to get it going, and if he can return to form as the explosive returner we know he can be when healthy, that would be a bonus for the Ravens down the stretch, otherwise look for more of Jim Leonard, and Ed Reed returning kicks and punts.
So here is a list of ways the Bengals can win this game, or even keep it closer than anticipated.
- Another injury among the Ravens already thin Offensive Line, especially if Adam Terry and Jared Gaither are unable to play, even though it looks like the should be ready to go.
- The Ravens pass rush fails to materialize and gives Ryan Fitzpatrick a chance to find a...
- Chad Johnson who is motivated and eager to re-prove himself after his suspension.
- Failure to protect Joe Flacco, leading to turnovers.
- Allowing good field position by giving up big plays to Glenn Holt and the Bengals return game.
This is a game the Ravens should win, and I think they will. Although if you need more reasons that nothing is certain in the NFL, look at Oakland's manhandling of Denver last week, as proof that the adage of "on any given Sunday" while cliched, is also true.
Prediction: Ravens 24, Bengals 13