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Matchup: Not your opening match






NOVEMBER 11, 2007

At best, this was supposed to a game between the top teams in the AFC North. At worst it was supposed to be a make-or-break for a playoff spot.

But the Ravens are a long way from having it made and the Bengals are close to broken just 60 days after one of their most impressive Opening Day wins ever. Since their 27-20 victory over the Ravens on Sept. 10, would you have believed the Bengals have recovered just two fumbles, are minus-5 in turnover differential, T.J. Houshmandzadeh has scored nine of their 19 touchdowns, and they've lost six of the last seven games?

And the roundtable calls it "a tossup game."

"A very bad offense against a really struggling defense," says The Guru, a former top football executive in the NFL. "I think the Ravens offense is just one of the worst I've ever seen and the Bengals defense may be better. Baltimore has the home edge, but I think it all depends on where these teams are mentally and what happens early."

"Both teams are mentally ill, so to speak," says the Chief, a personnel director for a team not in the Bengals division. "They aren't where they expected to be. You give the edge to the home team, and there's the revenge factor. The Ravens don't think they should have beat them the first time. But if Cincinnati gets on top of them quickly, the Ravens could still be stuck in that Pittsburgh game (Monday's 38-7 loss) and they'll have a hard time coming back with that offense."

LT Levi Jones and RT Stacy Andrews vs. Ravens ROLB Terrell Suggs and LOLB Jaret Johnson



Jones has had success against Suggs, the guy he used to duel daily during Arizona State practices. Suggs hasn't had a sack against the Bengals in the last five games.

"I think the Bengals have to be more patient with the run," The Guru says. "With the defense not being able to get the ball back, you're running into teams trying to shorten the game. I mean, 17 carries is OK for a half, but not for a game. It's going to protect Palmer as well. You can't give up on it too soon."

The reach? The 6-4 Henry is all over the 5-10 Martin.

The Ravens are third in the league in stopping teams on third down, so keep an eye on Houshmandzadeh, whose 16 third-down catches are fourth in the NFL.

Geathers had great success against right tackle Adam Terry the last time out with a career game. That will be a third-down matchup as Geathers tries to overpower a blocker that relies more on finesse than muscle.

"And of course the other thing is that they are so banged up at linebacker. They just really have a hard time holding up there. At some point, when you're playing with so may new guys, you have to look at injuries as the reason. And the secondary continues to be erratic with the young corners."

But Mason leads the NFL with 22 third-down catches and the Bengals are just coming off a brutal effort in Buffalo in which J.P. Losman sat back and threw eight third-down darts on 13 tries.

The last time we saw Heap, he felt he had been robbed out of a goal-line touchdown catch that would have sent the last game into OT when he was called for pushing off. But before that play, Williams and the secondary did a nice job on him, holding him to 29 yards on four catches. Heap has been struggling with a thigh problem and has just one touchdown this season, and the Bengals need to keep it that way.

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