After a few battles of my own with some Patriots fans on this site, regarding the poor officiating in last week's game, I'm not sure if I have enough brain power to write this blog, but I'll try.
Just to set a few things straight, since this is my first article, I am a Baltimore Ravens fan. My viewpoint on certain subjects might be slanted towards Baltimore, but I promise to keep an open mind, and to be as fair as possible in the articles I write.
The Ravens have yet another big test this week, as they host the 3-1 Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. There's no doubt the entire Ravens organization is fuming after last week's debochle in New England, over a couple questional personal foul calls against Suggs and Ngata, respectively. The true test for the Ravens is how they respond to the loss, and some negativity that accompanied it.
This year is a special year for the Ravens. As everyone knows by now, the Ravens have an excellent offense to complement a very good defense. Some people might argue that the defense has lost a step, and their usual superstars in the secondary have been playing with their eyes closed (Reed and Landry). I don't see this to be the case at all.
It's clear Baltimore has shifted their philosophy somewhat, on defense. They've elected to play with speedier corners rather than your typical, tall coverage corner. The speed they have in Domonique Foxworth and Fabian Washington clearly makes up for their lack of size in the secondary. Last week this duo did a good job in shutting down a premier receiver in Randy Moss, who is a prototypical NFL receiver. This week, the Ravens have a similar challenge in containing Chad Ochocinco.
Lately, the Ravens have owned the Bengals. Last season, they swept Cincinnati in two convincing wins. This game is important, because the AFC North seems to be in a transition of powers. The upstart Bengals look to be a team to contend with in the future. They come complete with a revamped defense, and an offense that now features a running attack along with the usual passing threat. Carson Palmer hasn't looked great this year, but he always has the potential to beat teams with the deep ball. However, now the Ravens have a similar attack on offense to counter the Bengals if they start to put points on the board early.
I have all the confidence in Joe Flacco. With just one year under his belt, he has shown poise, athleticism, strenght, and deadly accuracy. The entire Ravens offense looks like something no one has ever seen in fourteen years, since the organization entered the league. When the opposing team puts up points, Baltimore has done a great job of answering right back. Years ago, when the Ravens didn't have this potent offense, fourteen points would have been tough to overcome.
Given the way Baltimore has played so far this season (7-1 including the preseason), and the team Cincinnati has coming into Baltimore this week, you have to give the nod to the Ravens. Last week, Cincinnati struggled mightily with a Browns squad that could pass for a talented high school team. Great teams would have put the Browns away by halftime, yet it took five quarters and a field goal to end it in overtime, for the Bengals to pull that win off. Baltimore had no problems with the teams they were supposed to beat so far this season, with big wins over Kansas City and Cleveland. The tough win in San Diego (where Baltimore was supposed to lose), was just reassurance that they can finally win the close games, and big games they'll be involved in this year.
If Gaither is ready to go this Sunday, which most reports have him saying that he's ready, that should solidify the offensive line. Also, with Baltimore playing on a high emotional level, they should be able to give Cincinnati problems all day.
Look for Ray Rice to get more touches this week, as Harbaugh stated they don't want to lose that important identity. McGahee should be in the mix too, especially on screen plays. The entire playbook is now open to Flacco, and he should have a field day against a shaky Bengals secondary. This game has the chance to turn into a shoot-out, since both teams are adjusting their defensive schemes. With that said, in the end, it shouldn't be a close game. The "smart money" is on Baltimore in almost every media outlet.
After what should be a game full of big plays on offense, I predict the Ravens to take this game from Cincinnati, 37-17.
Things to watch for in this match up: An angry Ravens defense, playing with more passion; Flacco picking apart a mediocre Bengals secondary (possibly for 300+ yards, 3 TD's); A big game from Ed Reed - He's notorious for giving Carson Palmer huge problems in the past, so look for a big play or two from him as he's starting to come into form, finally.