It's an AFC North battle as the Ravens host the Bengals on Sunday. Baltimore has dominated this series as of late with five straight wins, including both contests fairly easily last year. The first was a 27-3 win at home in Week 4 followed by a 38-3 blowout in Cincinnati to close out the regular season. Quarterback play was a big factor in the two games, as Lamar Jackson accounted for five touchdowns while Joe Burrow and Brandon Allen were sacked a combined seven times.
This year's Bengals are off to a 4-2 start following a 34-11 shellacking of the Lions in Detroit last Sunday. Cincy's defense was the story, holding the home team to 228 total yards and 15 first downs with the lone touchdown coming with 2:15 left in the game. On the other side of the ball, Burrow continued his strong play with 271 yards and three touchdowns, although he did have an interception too. Ja'Marr Chase had four receptions for 97 yards, and some sportsbooks have installed him as the Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite.
Meanwhile, Baltimore rolled to its fifth straight win by manhandling the Chargers 34-6 despite dealing with a short week after beating Indianapolis in overtime on "Monday Night Football" to wrap up Week 5. The matchup with Los Angeles was expected to be a massive tilt with AFC seeding implications, but, instead, the Ravens left no doubt. They harassed Justin Herbert all game long and limited the Chargers to 26 rushing yards. Baltimore churned out 187 yards on the ground with three different running backs scoring as Jackson didn't have to do much.
Cincinnati (4-2) at Baltimore (5-1)
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 24 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Ravens -6
Three Things to Watch
The Bengals are playing their second of three straight on the road on Sunday. They also dealt with back-to-back away games in Weeks 2 and 3, which they split by losing in Chicago and then knocking off Pittsburgh. Up next is a trip to MetLife Stadium to face the Jets, so it's not like Cincinnati won't give Baltimore its full attention. The Bengals also are relatively healthy considering we're seven weeks into the season. Burrow remains on vocal rest due to the throat contusion he suffered a couple of weeks ago in the loss to Green Bay, but it's not impacting his ability to practice.
This will be the final of a three-game homestand for the Ravens, who have enjoyed playing at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore has a bye next week, so focus shouldn't be an issue for John Harbaugh's team either. The Ravens dealt with plenty of devastating injuries before the season even started, and the hits have kept on coming. The latest player lost for the season is left tackle Ronnie Stanley. The 2019 All-Pro played in the opener before an ankle injury sidelined him. He announced on Tuesday afternoon that he was undergoing surgery and was placed on injured reserve. He's the 17th Raven to go on IR this season.
2. Give Burrow time
Things have been a lot better for Burrow lately after a rough start when he was sacked 10 times in the first two games. Since then, he has been taken down just six times, although it should be pointed out that Pittsburgh's defense was pretty banged up when these teams played in Week 3. So slowing down Baltimore's pass rush (14 sacks) will be a good barometer to see how far the Bengals' offensive line has come. This group has held up well against the Ravens recently with five of the last six meetings resulting in three or fewer sacks surrendered. For Baltimore, nine different players have recorded a sack thus far, led by rookie Odafe Oweh's three.
Another way to help Burrow out would be for Cincinnati to run the ball effectively on Sunday. Joe Mixon has had to deal with an ankle injury that has hampered him a bit (4.3 ypc), but the tougher challenge is finding open running lanes against a Ravens defense that is third in the NFL against the run (82.0 ypg).
3. Ravens' running attack
Cincinnati also has done a good job defending the run thus far, ranking eighth in the league at 90.5 rushing yards per game allowed. The Bengals have already bottled up Dalvin Cook (61 yds.), David Montgomery (61), Najee Harris (40), and D'Andre Swift (24) but struggled a little with James Robinson and Aaron Jones, who both found the end zone.
Baltimore has used five different running backs after losing J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill before the season even started. The Ravens may have settled on Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman, and Le'Veon Bell as their leading trio, but Ty'Son Williams, who started the opener, remains on the roster too. Bell was recently added to the 53-man roster from the practice squad, which means he's there to stay for the next few weeks. Murray suffered an ankle injury last week and has already been ruled out for Sunday. Freeman is expected to start but Bell and Williams should get their opportunities as well. Of course, Jackson is always a threat to run, and he leads the team (and is seventh in the NFL) with 392 rushing yards. He has improved as a passer this season, but this team's bread and butter will remain the running game as long as Harbaugh is the head coach.
The Ravens should extend both their current winning streak and their run over the Bengals to six in a row with a victory on Sunday. Cincinnati is greatly improved, but it remains to be seen if this team is ready to compete with Baltimore. Burrow should be able to find some success against the Ravens' beat-up secondary, but it'll be Jackson and the running back-by-committee approach that should have more success. This one will be fun, but I'm not betting against the Ravens at home.
Prediction: Ravens 27, Bengals 17
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.