Five things to watch: Bengals at Ravens

Tee Higgins 092922
WR Tee Higgins

The Bengals look to win their third straight game on Sunday night in a primetime matchup against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. The game airs nationally on NBC. Here are five things to watch.

1. Turnover battle

The Bengals and Ravens each enter Sunday night's game ranking in the top 10 in turnover differential. History between the two AFC North rivals suggests that whoever wins the turnover battle will wake up Monday morning with a 3-2 record.

In 41 all-time meetings in which the turnover differential has not been even (1995-present), the team that wins the turnover battle is 35-6. Cincinnati is 15-3 against Baltimore with a plus differential, and 3-20 with a minus. The Ravens this season boast a plus-5 differential, good for second in the NFL, which is spearheaded by seven interceptions that are tied for the league lead. The Bengals, meanwhile, have rallied from a minus-five showing in the season opener vs. Pittsburgh and gone plus-six over their last three games. Cincinnati has forced multiple turnovers, while committing zero offensively, each of the last two weeks.

2. Defensive game plan for Lamar

Few quarterbacks, if any, pose a threat in the running and passing game like Baltimore's Lamar Jackson. The former MVP is tied for first in the NFL in passing touchdowns (11), fourth in passer rating (105.1) and ninth in rushing yards (316).

Jackson has rushed for 70-plus yards in each of the Ravens' last three games (he already holds an NFL quarterback record with four straight 70-yard rushing games from 2020-21). Sunday will bring perhaps his toughest challenge yet, as Cincinnati enters with the league's fourth-ranked rushing defense, allowing just 85.8 yards per game. Since yielding 88 yards on the ground to Jackson in a Week 7 matchup at Baltimore last season, the Bengals have gone 18 straight games (including postseason) without allowing a quarterback to rush for more than 40 yards.

In the air, the Bengals' secondary has held eight straight quarterbacks to a passer rating of 100 or lower. Cincinnati also has four picks over the past two games. To pick up a divisional win on Sunday, coordinator Lou Anarumo's unit will need to be up to the task in all areas against the dynamic Jackson.

3. Feeding a hot Higgins

Tee Higgins' 124 receiving yards in Week 4 vs. Miami were the fourth-most of any game in his career. Higgins has quietly cemented his place among the NFL's elite receivers, as his 960 yards since Week 12 of the 2021 season are the third-most in the league.

The Bengals also could do for a repeat performance from Higgins against the Ravens. His last time playing Baltimore – Week 16 of 2021 – he set career highs for receptions (12) and receiving yards (194), while scoring two touchdowns. Higgins, quarterback Joe Burrow and the rest of the Cincinnati offense may find opportunities for big plays down the field, as the Ravens are 32nd in pass defense and have given up 100-plus yards to three receivers so far this season.

4. Keeping up the protection

The new-look Bengals offensive line has allowed just three sacks over the past two games. Burrow showered his front five with praise after the win over the Dolphins last Thursday, feeling he had all the time he needed in the pocket to get through his reads.

"I'm so proud of those guys for the work that they put in," he said. "They took a lot of heat the first two weeks, but those guys are just getting better and better. The protection was awesome today, and that's how it's going to be going forward."

Baltimore's pass rushing success thus far has mirrored team results. The Ravens have recorded three sacks in each of their two wins, but logged just one in both of their losses. In an AFC North matchup known over the years for its physicality, the Bengals' ability to keep Burrow clean could be the difference between victory and defeat.

5. Primetime clash

Sunday night will be the fifth regular-season primetime game between the Bengals and Ravens. Cincinnati holds a 3-2 edge in those contests, but Baltimore has some eye-popping results in night games, particularly at M&T Bank Stadium.

Under head coach John Harbaugh (2008-present), the Ravens are 18-2 in home primetime games, good for the NFL's best winning percentage in that span (.900). Baltimore is also 7-1 at home on Sunday Night Football with Harbaugh on the sideline. Lamar Jackson is 6-1 at home in primetime, including wins in each of his last four. He has accounted for 20 total touchdowns and a 102.0 passer rating.

On the Cincinnati side, Joe Burrow has three career primetime starts, all on Thursday Night Football. He has seven touchdown passes with zero interceptions and a 108.0 passer rating in those contests, leading the Bengals to a 2-1 record.

The Bengals and Ravens have faced off just once before on Sunday Night Football, a 31-24 Baltimore home win on Sept. 27, 1998.

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