Sunday 6pm Preview: Bengals and Ravens fight it out in key AFC North battle

Sunday will see the 4-2 Cincinnati Bengals travel to Baltimore to take on the 5-1 Ravens. This game is crucial in the fight for the division title and three AFC Wildcard spots as at least three teams in the AFC North look like they’re set for the postseason.

Coming into this one Baltimore beat up on a pretty well fancied Los Angeles Chargers side, whilst Cincy are coming off a 34-11 dusting of the Detriot Lions. The Ravens are down two more players this week as Sammy Watkins and Latavius Murray were declared out on Friday, whilst Joe Burrow was on voice rest this week after side effects of his throat contusion have started to appear.

Lamar keeping Ravens elite despite multiple injuries

The Baltimore Ravens caught the injury plague in training camp this year, losing multiple starters before the regular season had even begun. A few key defensive players and offensive linemen have added to the list in season, and yet they’ve got five wins and look to be a real contender. If they continue at the same rate John Harbaugh has got to be up there for coach of the year, surely.

2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson has looked better than ever throwing the football, which he’s having to do a lot more since the Ravens lost their three running backs going into the season. The more pass-heavy offense has seen the likes of Mark Andrews and Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown thrive. The former is PFF’s highest-graded tight end (91.8 total offense grade) and has the joint-most receiving yards for a TE (468) which he shares with Travis Kelce. Brown’s also had a big year, his 5 TDs and 486 yards put him among the league’s best. The real star has to be Lamar though, he’s silenced many doubters by finally beating the Chiefs this season, as well as being a pretty accurate passer of the football when forced to stick within the pocket. That Colts game was incredible, the ex Louisville Cardinal completed 86% of his passes for 442 yards and 4 TDs. He’s also elite when carrying the football, the quarterback has more total yards (2078) than 15 teams, including the Bengals.

Joe Burrow is the real deal, has serious weapons on O.

On the other sideline, the Bengals have a superstar in Joe Burrow who has become one of the better QBs in the league in only his second season. Burrow is 6th in passer rating and has the 7th best passing grade in the league according to PFF (84.7). What’s even more impressive to me is the fact he’s actually the 2nd best QB in the league in the two-minute drill, which is where losses become wins. The Bengals quarterback has completed 70.7% of his passes for 1540 yards, 14 TDs, and 7 INTs. His yards per attempt (8.9) is among the league’s best, which is hardly surprising when the LSU alum has the probable offensive rookie of the year winner and his former college teammate Jamarr Chase to pass to, deep downfield.

Chase has burst onto the scene this year, similar to fellow LSU receiver Justin Jefferson in 2020. He’s averaging 20.5 yards per catch which puts him second of anyone with more than 10 receptions. Joe and Jamarr have combined for 553 yards and 5 TD’s already this season, which puts him on course to beat Jefferson’s record for most receiving yards as a rookie (1400). Then there’s the other Joe on offense. Joe Mixon when healthy has consistently been one of the league’s top 10 running backs and has continued that pace this season. He’s fourth in the league in rushing yards, and also 4th ranked on PFF. Mixon’s role on this team is huge. Tee Higgins is a great receiving option too, as are Tyler Boyd and CJ Uzomah. I love this offense, just a shame that some parts of the line are ropey.

Two elite defenses

On to the defensive side of the football, where a lot of great players lie. The Ravens unit is solid as ever, with quality defensive backs and a dominant defensive line. Calais Campbell is looking to be back at his best at the ripe old age of 35. His 87.9 PFF grade puts him 4th among all interior defensive linemen. To the right of him, rookie Odafe Oweh has filled Matthew Judon’s shoes excellently. He leads the team with 3 sacks. Baltimore look to have got a stud towards the end of the 1st, which was a huge gamble as Oweh had never registered a sack in college. Chuck Clark and Deshone Elliot are adding to a long list of versatile Ravens DB’s. They can play absolutely anywhere and seem to be making plays every single week. Look out for them.

Cincinnati’s defense seems to have gone under the radar, which isn’t surprising when you look at how well Burrow, Chase, and Mixon are playing, but that still isn’t right. Their defense is sneakily better than the O in my opinion. IDL’s DJ Reader and BJ Hill are among the top 10 in the league at their position on PFF, as is LBer Logan Wilson and CB Chidobe Awuzie. Edge rusher Trey Hendrickson had a breakout year in New Orleans in 2020 and has shown no signs of slowing down in his new home, whilst Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell are a great duo at safety. This defense is 4th in points allowed, letting up only 18.5 ppg.

Predictions

Baltimore comes into this game 6.5 point favourites, which I’d lean towards taking. The Ravens always seem to win this type of game in years gone past, and that team looks so together right now. Cincinnati and the Chargers are similar teams and I can’t look past what Lamar and co did last week.

Baltimore 28, Cincinnati 20

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