Early division lead at stake as AFC North rivals meet
When the Bengals and Ravens last met, Cincinnati stunned Baltimore on New Year’s Eve with an unlikely upset thanks to a 49-yard Andy Dalton-to-Tyler Boyd touchdown pass on 4th-and-12 in the final minute. The play knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs and put Buffalo in.
Baltimore got its revenge on the Bills last week with a 47–3 blowout that turned into an extra preseason game in the second half. Now the Ravens look to pay back the Bengals, who rallied to beat the Colts 34–23 thanks to 17 fourth-quarter points. Because the Browns and Steelers played to a tie in Week 1, the winner of this one will have at least a half-game edge on the rest of the AFC North.
Is that enough juice to keep this one from being a typically sloppy, early-season Thursday night game? Probably not. But at least there’s no rain in the forecast, so the weather will be better than it was for many of the games in Week 1.
Baltimore at Cincinnati
Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 13 at 8:20 p.m. ET
TV: NFL Network
Spread: Bengals -1
Three Things to Watch
1. Baltimore’s new weapons
The Ravens revamped their receiving corps in the offseason, adding Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead, and all three caught touchdowns from Joe Flacco in Week 1. That’s a good sign, but the game got out of hand so quickly that it’s hard to read much into it. Six different players caught at least three passes, and none totaled more than 49 yards. Will anyone emerge as a true go-to guy who can be trusted to make plays in a close game? Will the depth help Flacco silence his critics who are eager to see Lamar Jackson take over? We’ll start to get answers this week.
2. Joe Mixon becoming a workhorse?
Mixon has always had the skill set to be an every-down back for the Bengals, but they have also had Giovani Bernard around to handle most of the third-down back duties. If the Week 1 win over Indianapolis is any indication, that’s changing. Bernard got just two touches (one carry and one catch), while Mixon carried 17 times and caught five passes on seven targets. Last season, Bernard got more than 30 percent of the carries between the two and was targeted 60 times in the passing game to Mixon’s 34. On a short week, it’s certainly possible Bernard spells Mixon a little more often, so don’t expect another 149 yards from scrimmage for Mixon. But if Mixon finds success again against a tough Baltimore defense, he could be set up for a big season.
3. Is Lamar Jackson the new “Slash?”
Jackson ended up playing quarterback for most of the second half because the Ravens had jumped out to a 40–0 lead, so his seven carries for 39 yards are not an indication of how the Ravens intend to use him. But he was on the field often in the first half, carrying the ball once for no gain and throwing an incomplete pass after taking a handoff from Flacco on another play. While it’s very unlikely that the Ravens would risk their potential quarterback of the future by giving him that many carries or throwing him passes regularly as the Steelers once did with Kordell Stewart, there’s no doubt that they are going to get him on the field to at least give defenses something else to worry about.
Given the glorified preseason nature of the Ravens opener, it’s tough to put too much stock in it. While the new-look offense produced a couple long scoring drives, the final score is misleading as Baltimore also had drives of eight, minus-three, 14 and a single yard all result in points. That’s 20 points for 20 yards. It’s tough to lose a game like that. The Bengals will be a much tougher test, especially in their home opener.