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Cincinnati Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens Preview and Prediction

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The Cincinnati Bengals visit the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, with the Ravens still looking for their first win of the season after losing their first two games out west. The Ravens were surprisingly shredded by Derek Carr and the Raiders, as the loss of Terrell Suggs for the season loomed large over their defense, which gave up almost 500 total yards.

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The Bengals meanwhile are off to a strong start, posting convincing victories over those same Raiders (33-13) and the always-tough San Diego Chargers (24-19). Andy Dalton has thrown for 493 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions so far, as the Bengals offense has welcomed tight end Tyler Eifert into the mix and he's rounded out their attack. 

The Bengals beat the Ravens twice last season, including a season-opening 23-16 win in Baltimore, but both teams still made the playoffs. It's still early, but the Ravens' backs are against the wall as falling to 0-3 in the competitive AFC North could be a playoff death sentence.

Expect a hard-hitting affair between two teams that know each other well and dislike each other equally well.

Cincinnati at Baltimore

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)

Channel: CBS

Line: Baltimore -2.5

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Three Things to Watch

1. Can the Ravens D Find Their Mojo?

Last week was the first time since the 1990s that the Ravens defense didn't have at least Ed Reed, Ray Lewis or Terrell Suggs and they looked like a defense that was lost against the Raiders. Their secondary is still much-improved over last year's squad that came within two 14-point leads on the Patriots from going to the AFC Championship, but the front seven faces are no longer as recognizable as the days of Lewis, Suggs, Haloti Ngata and the rest. Baltimore is still a talented group and they're well coached, but they'll have their work cut out for them against the Bengals' assortment of weapons.

2. Is the Bengal Offense Really That Good?

The Bengals are sixth in the NFL in points and have done it with A.J. Green only grabbing eight catches for 108 yards and a single touchdown. Does that signal a downward trend for the receiver, or is it a good sign that you can no longer stop Cincinnati by simply taking him out of the game? Starting running back Jeremy Hill was benched after two fumbles last week, but Giovanni Bernard stepped right in and picked up 123 yards on 20 carries. Eifert leads the team with 13 catches for 153 yards and three touchdowns on the season and is sure to get more and more attention each week. Divisional opponents always give the toughest defensive tests and this week, on the road, will prove just how good the Bengals offense really is.

3. Is Joe Flacco Elite?

Yes, that's an old joke, but as the Baltimore defense turns over, along with the numerous departures at the weapons positions, more and more pressure is being put on Flacco to carry this team. The Bengals defense is ranked 4th in points and 6th in yards through two weeks and will give Flacco everything he can handle. Flacco's top target has been 36-year-old Steve Smith, who has has 12 catches for 163 yards, but after Smith there isn't a lot for Flacco to work with. This could be a defining game for Flacco going forward, but he'll need some new faces like Crockett Gilmore and Kamar Aiken to step up.

Final Analysis

The Bengals are surging and the Ravens are floundering at the moment, but often a team's performance out of the gate to start a new season can be misleading. Nowhere is this more true than in division games because more often than not you can throw out what you think you know and just expect a hard-fought close game. That's even more accurate when talking about the AFC North, where three teams made the playoffs last season. Baltimore finished third in the division last year and it's hard to say this year's version is better in any aspect. The Bengals will be looking to make an early claim on divisional dominance over one of their biggest foes, and they looked primed to do so.

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Prediction: Bengals 27, Ravens 17

— Written by Mike Dussault, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and writer/editor of PatsPropaganda.com (@PatsPropaganda), a comprehensive blog covering the New England Patriots.