The Baltimore Ravens aren’t in this position very often. Sitting at 0-2, they’re currently in last place in the vaunted AFC North. After a hard fought loss in a defensive struggle vs the Broncos, they lost a head scratcher last weekend in Oakland to the lowly Raiders, 37-33. The last time the Ravens started a season 0-2, was in 2005 when they ended the season 6-10. With impact players like: Joe Flacco, 30, Justin Forsett, 31, Steve Smith Sr, 36, Terrell Suggs (now injured), 33, Elvis Dumervil, 31, and Daryl Smith, 33; the Ravens aren’t planning for the future, they’re in the here and now, attempting to make use of these player’s windows of opportunity to win a Super Bowl.
Now that brings us to this week: the Cincinnati Bengals; a team that Coach Harbaugh referred to as, “the most talented team in the league.” The Ravens defense had a major lapse last week after holding the Broncos to zero offensive touchdowns in Week 1. Understandably, they had lost Terrell Suggs their best pass rusher and emotional leader, but after a week, that shock should have subsided, and the “next man up” mentality that has always personified the Ravens will need to kick in. Falling to 0-3 will almost certainly guarantee a non-playoff season, the second in three years. A rarity for a team for that has won a playoff game in their last 6 playoff appearances.
Cincinnati’s offense is as tough to stop as any, due to their multitude of offensive weapons. Aside from Quarterback Andy Dalton, who at the very least is a solid distributor, you have to deal with both dynamic Bengal backs in Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. The modern day equivalent to Tampa Bay’s old “Thunder and Lightning” combination with Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn, Hill is the featured back and is imposing at nearly 240 pounds. Bernard is more of a change-of-pace back, excelling catching passes out of the backfield, and also possessing elite quickness in the open field. Then, when you think you’ve stopped them, you have to deal with one of the NFL’s most talented Wide Receivers in AJ Green, along with Marvin Jones and Tight End Tyler Eifert. Couple those skill position players with as solid of an Offensive Line you’ll find outside of Dallas, and the Bengals are a chore even for a defense at full strength.
When you look to the other side of the ball, Marvin Lewis’ group is talented there as well. On the Defensive Line, Geno Adkins is a disruptive force in the middle, and Defensive Ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson are both huge players that provide a solid pass rush. At Linebacker, you may have the weakness of the unit, as Vontaze Burfict is out with injury, replaced by AJ Hawk in the starting lineup. In the secondary, the Bengals feature four former 1st round picks at Cornerback, along with Reggie Nelson, a ball hawking Free Safety and George Iloka, a 6’4″ 230 lb enforcer in the back of the defense.
With all of this being said, the Ravens can absolutely beat the Bengals on Sunday, but as Marshal Yanda said after last week’s loss, “We’ve all got to get better, and in a hurry.” The Ravens have to play with a high sense of urgency this week, if they want to avoid starting 0-3, with a trip to Pittsburgh on a short week looming in the distance. As mentioned before, this is an unfamiliar position for Baltimore to be in, and they’ve got to come out swinging if they want any chance at making the postseason in 2015.
My prediction: Ravens 27, Bengals 24