The Bengals bring their home-run offense into the city of Babe Ruth's birth Sunday night (8:20 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5) in an AFC North derby at M&T Bank Stadium featuring two of the NFL's biggest clean-up hitters in quarterbacks Joe Burrow of Cincinnati and Lamar Jackson of Baltimore.
For what looks to be an unprecedented third straight game, the Bengals.com Media Roundtable is unanimous for Cincinnati as it eyes its third straight victory of the season and a third straight win over the Ravens for the first time since 2015.
Former Bengals Super Bowl safety Solomon Wilcots, the anchor of Sirius NFL Radio's daily morning show "The Opening Drive," plans to celebrate his birthday with a win for his old team. Wilcots had a 6-3 record against the old Cleveland team that became the Ravens and he sees them unable to contain Burrow in a replay of last year's aerial assault during the Bengals sweep.
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec, long-time Ravens beat reporter and reigning Maryland Sportswriter of the Year, thinks the Bengals defense is going to carry the night against a depleted Ravens offense. The Cincinnati contingent, Laurel Pfahler of The Dayton Daily News and ESPN.com's Ben Baby, both see another big night for Burrow against the NFL's last-ranked pass defense.
Let's go around The Table. As always, ladies, former Bengals and visitors first.
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is having a great year, but I think the Bengals defense is up for the challenge. As Joe Burrow mentioned, Baltimore's cornerbacks are going to be tough and its going to make it hard for the offense. The Bengals could use their running game in this one and we haven't seen it yet. But those lopsided scores from last year, this isn't the same Baltimore team.
THE EDGE: I think it's going to end up like the last couple of games. The defense ends up with some turnovers and plays well and the offense does just enough late to get over the hump. BENGALS, 28-24
Joe Burrow comes in red hot. He has the highest passer rating of any quarterback in the last two games and he's protected the ball. He hasn't turned it over in seven of their last eight (regular-season) games. If that continues, I think he's poised to put up big numbers against a Baltimore defense that ranks dead last in defending the pass. They do a real job of taking the ball away and that's what the Bengals have to be careful of and really be precise in what they're doing.
As long as they protect the ball offensively, as they have the last few games, they should put up big numbers. I can't see the Ravens secondary matching up with the Bengals trio of receivers. Tight end Hayden Hurst is a former first-round pick of the Ravens, so I'm sure he's looking to get back to M&T Bank Stadium and make his presence felt. I love what he's been for Joe Burrow as a steady, comfortable presence over the middle of the field. A chain-mover on third down. I think with him and Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase, it's going to be too much for a Baltimore defense that has already blown two 17-point leads. The first time it's ever happened in NFL history where a defense has blown that big of a lead in the same season and we're just five weeks into this thing.
THE EDGE: Here comes Joe Burrow. He already got one Ravens defensive coordinator fired. It looks like he's ready to have another big day.
There's a lot of concern heading into this game from the Baltimore perspective about how they're going to stop Burrow and all those receivers and running back Joe Mixon and that's understandable given what Burrow did to them last year.
But I'll be honest with you, my big concern is how the Ravens are going to move the ball with what they currently have. Their No. 1 receiver, Rashod Bateman, isn't going to play. Running back Justice Hill has been the one who has got their run game going. He's been their most explosive back. He's out. How are they going to move the ball with a couple of key pieces out and the Bengals have a really good defense? It's better this year and they showed last year they have a nice recipe for Lamar. They have the pieces to take away tight end Mark Andrews with their inside linebackers and safeties.
THE EDGE: Contrary to the fourth-quarter disasters, the Ravens defense is showing signs of playing a little better, but it is the matchup with the Bengals defense that is concerning because they'll have to score points to win this game and their defense is ranked 30th and they're not pitching a shutout Sunday night. My question is, can the Ravens match them offensively? *BENGALS, 26-20. *
The big question for me is this Ravens defense doesn't really look like what it used to look like when you see how many yards they give up and look at their defensive drive rates. That's going to be a big question for me. I think offensively both teams can be in a good position, but I think the Bengals defense gives them a good chance to win.
The Bengals have built themselves pretty well defensively to limit Lamar and other offenses that kind of operate that way. The X factor could be how much he decides to go to the air. He's obviously been very good at that. The coaches have talked about how much better he's become and the numbers bear it out. Cincinnati's offense is going to put lot of pressure on them. Even though it hasn't its stride, I think they'll put enough pressure on the Ravens defense.
THE EDGE: I think this is the week the Bengals take off. I know it's a big spread, but I just don't think the Ravens have enough to stop them like it was last year. BENGALS, 35-21
THE BOTTOM LINE
This is as dangerous of a game as the Bengals have faced in a long time. And as important.
The hornet's nest known as M&T Bank Stadium is buzzing angrily with five straight home losses, the last two after blowing 17-point leads including last Sunday's collapse against the Bills.
The Ravens have never opened a season with three straight home losses under head coach John Harbaugh and it's a place where neither he nor Lamar Jackson lose very often. Harbaugh is still nearly 50 games over .500 (82-33) in his 15 seasons at home and Jackson is 22-9.
The quick-start trend has to be huge in this game, too. Look, the Ravens are a heck of a team. How do you think they got those leads against an elite team in the Bills and a good team in the Dolphins? Hard to see them blowing leads of any kind for at least the recent future under a coach that is 121-19 leading after three quarters.
But Bengals head coach Zac Taylor looks to have his team primed at just the right time for a decisive division game in prime time. He really emphasized the quick start after they came out punchless early in the first two games and lost them. In the last two they've put up points in the first drive to take control right away and that would seem to be a must in front of an already surly crowd that has seethed all day and could turn quickly on the hosts.
(Send out captain and center Ted Karras for his second career coin flip and take the ball again like in New York? Or maybe former Ravens first-rounder Hayden Hurst?)
If the odds are against another home loss for the Ravens, the trends are not against a Cincinnati offense beginning to flex. And that's not even getting into the 416 yards Burrow threw against them and the 201 yards Chase caught last season before the injuries decimated them.
The injury bug that knocked the Ravens out of first place last December is still gnawing at them. Their No. 1 receiver, Rashod Bateman, and No. 1 back, Justice Hill, are out. With the Bengals defense ranked fourth against the run along with confidence-building win over Jackson last season, defensive coordinator Lou (Anarumo) looks to have more weapons than Lamar. Last year, the spy on Jackson was left end Sam Hubbard. The thing is, while Anarumo could stick with Hubbard, he's got a bunch of fast guys he can use for a different look.
(The Ravens' J.K. Dobbins is a terrific back and now he figures to get the bulk of the carries Sunday night. He missed all last season with a knee injury and while he's shown signs he'll get back his elusiveness, there are concerns he won't be all the way back until later in the year.)
The other trend you just can't get away from is how the Ravens secondary has consistently given up the big play and how that matches up against Burrow. Ranked last in pass defense, Baltimore has allowed a league-leading 46 passes of at least 20 yards while Burrow has thrown the most touchdown passes of at least 30 yards over the last two seasons and has the second most completions of 40 yards this season.
Plus, the Ravens are down a pass rusher in Justin Houston. They'll find out how much the other rushers, Calais Cambell (36) and Jason Pierre-Paul (33) have left, but in a change of script it is the Bengals that come in with a league-leading quarterback knockdowns (25) while the Ravens have a back-of-the-pack 12, according to Pro Football Reference.com.
But, again. Dangerous. The Ravens have one more sack than Cincinnati with eight, lead the league in generating turnovers with ten and have their own kicking threat to counter the Bengals' Evan McPherson. Future Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Justin Tucker also is three-for-three from 50 yards, is five-for-five from everywhere and is ungodly when it's a close game.
Can't get in a tight one with Tucker. He has hit 59 straight field goals in the fourth and overtime, is 16-for-16 in the final minute of regulation and a Jim Breech-like five-for-five in OT.
But he can't outkick recent trends.
Heads or tails, Teddy?