First place in the AFC North will be on the line when the Baltimore Ravens host the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
Those stakes might be hard to believe considering the results of their past three meetings, all Baltimore blowout wins: 38-3, 27-3, 49-13. In fact, the Ravens are 5-0 against Cincinnati since Lamar Jackson became the starting quarterback midway through 2018.
Now, the era of Bengals as divisional doormats may be over with third-year coach Zac Taylor and second-year quarterback Joe Burrow leading a rejuvenated offense.
Cincinnati is 4-2 this season, and Baltimore is 5-1.
“The (Bengals’) whole team is one of the best teams in the National Football League right now,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters. “There’s no question about it — just watch them play. … We’ve got our hands full.”
Burrow went 19-for-29 for 271 passing yards, with three touchdowns and an interception, last week to guide the Bengals past winless Detroit. In doing so, he became the second first- or second-year quarterback ever to throw for multiple touchdowns in each of the first six games of a season, joining Dan Marino.
He’s thrived when teaming up with his former LSU teammate, Ja’Marr Chase. The rookie has 27 receptions for 553 yards (ranked fourth in the NFL), an average of 20.5 yards per catch (third in the league).
What might receive less attention than the Burrow-fueled offense is Cincinnati’s defense. The Bengals ranked 26th in total defense and 22nd in scoring defense last season; through six weeks this year, they’re eighth in the NFL in total defense (331 ypg) and fifth in scoring defense (18.5 ppg).
The Bengals aren’t viewing Sunday as a measuring-stick game, per se.
“This is a team who’s done it consistently for a long time,” Taylor said of Baltimore. “They’ve played at the end of the year when it really matters. And to get to where we want to be, you gotta go on the road and you gotta be able to win games like this.”
The Ravens’ secondary hasn’t been its typical self, allowing 277.3 yards per game, but the defense as a whole has bent without breaking during Baltimore’s current five-game winning streak.
After surviving a 36-35 shootout win over Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City, the Ravens held Detroit to 17 points and Denver to seven.
Last week, they contained Los Angeles Chargers star-in-the-making Justin Herbert in a 34-6 rout. Baltimore held Los Angeles to 26 rushing yards on 12 attempts and limited Herbert to 195 yards on 56.4 percent passing, both season lows for him.
Now, the Ravens are preparing for their first AFC North matchup of the season.
“We have the same mindset,” Jackson said. “Focusing in on each other. Just look at the defense; look at those guys and try to go out there ready.
“We’ve been locked in for the last few weeks, and we’re gonna keep the same focus.”
Several key Ravens sat out practice Wednesday with injuries, including offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva (knee), center Bradley Bozeman (back) and receiver Sammy Watkins (hamstring). Linebacker Patrick Queen (thigh) was a limited participant.
Baltimore also placed All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley on injured reserve Tuesday ahead of season-ending ankle surgery.
For Cincinnati, cornerback Jalen Davis (ankle), center Trey Hopkins (knee) and defensive tackle Josh Tupou (knee) missed Wednesday’s practice.
Five others were limited, including rookie running back Chris Evans (hamstring), who’s coming off his first career touchdown in the Lions’ victory.
–Field Level Media