We know the familiar talking points for a Ravens game like this.
Baltimore is 18-2 in home prime-time games under head coach John Harbaugh, a reminder of the edge M&T Bank Stadium provides in front of a national audience.
The Cincinnati Bengals still haven’t won a Super Bowl in their history and remain the “Bungles” at their core.
But do such sentiments matter in the wake of the Ravens blowing leads of 17 or more points in back-to-back home losses when they’d done that just three other times in their entire history? Save for Harbaugh and a few veteran players, this current era of Ravens football hasn’t come close to matching what the Bengals did with three playoff wins and an appearance in Super Bowl LVI last year. And there’s also that ugly 2021 season sweep at the hands of Cincinnati that several Ravens players didn’t want to discuss this week.
There’s no such thing as a must-win game in Week 5, but this is an “under the hood” game for the Ravens to prove those last-second losses to Miami and Buffalo were more surprising aberrations — they only trailed for a total of 14 seconds in those defeats after all — than evidence of a concerning systemic problem of not being able to finish off high-quality opponents.
It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Bengals meet for the 53rd time with Baltimore holding a 27-25 advantage and a 17-9 home record. This marks the first time they’ve met in prime time since 2018 and the first Sunday night game between these division rivals since 1998.
Below are five predictions for Sunday:
1. Ronnie Stanley will make his long-awaited return, but Cincinnati will still sack Lamar Jackson four times. I don’t have any extra intel on this one beyond what Harbaugh and Stanley have said recently and the reality that the 2019 All-Pro left tackle has now had more than a month of on-field ramp-up work and practiced fully on Wednesday and Thursday for a second straight week. If not now, then when? Whenever Stanley does play, he’s likely to experience some rust after missing all but one contest over the last 23 months, and Bengals defensive ends Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard are a challenge for anyone blocking the edge. Right tackle Morgan Moses has also struggled some the last couple weeks, which will be something to watch.
2. Patrick Ricard and Isaiah Likely will find the end zone for a banged-up offense. The absences of Rashod Bateman and Justice Hill are concerning to say the least when you’re facing an opponent with so much potential offensive firepower, which will put even more pressure on Greg Roman to open the play-calling vault against a good defense. Short-yardage situations have been a struggle, but Ricard has carried twice for two first downs this season, making it a no-brainer to turn to him more frequently in such spots. Small sample size or just common sense, Jackson’s passing numbers haven’t been pretty without Bateman on the field so far, so it’s time for the fourth-round selection of Likely to start paying off since the Ravens didn’t show much urgency to improve at wide receiver after trading Marquise Brown this spring.
3. Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Madubuike will each register a sack to make Joe Burrow uncomfortable in the pocket. No one could really explain how Pierre-Paul ended up playing a whopping 55 snaps last week after just a few days of practice and not being with a team all spring and summer, but it’s a credit to the 33-year-old’s conditioning and experience as a three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher. The Bengals used no shortage of resources trying to improve their offensive line this offseason, but Burrow was sacked an unseemly 13 times over their first two games. Though that protection has been better recently, the Ravens have to find a way to take advantage of that weakness without compromising their pass coverage. Madubuike should have the opportunity to be one of the stars of this game to continue his hot start.
4. Tyler Boyd and Hayden Hurst will catch touchdown passes for the Bengals. The challenges that wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins pose are obvious, which is why it was concerning to see three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters appear on the injury report with a quad issue late in the week. That’s not to say he won’t play, but there was already enough pressure on Brandon Stephens, who settled into the slot corner spot against Buffalo last week. Boyd, who mostly lines up at slot receiver, is obviously no stranger to having some success against the Ravens. Meanwhile, Baltimore hasn’t been particularly poor against tight ends — ranking 17th in coverage efficiency against that position — but the inside linebackers are a group for Burrow to exploit in coverage if the Ravens defensive line doesn’t cause enough disruption in the pocket. Hurst is certainly no Mark Andrews, but he’s fully capable of making a key play or two.
5. A fourth-quarter turnover will prove to be the difference in a tight 27-23 win for Cincinnati. Jackson remains on the short list of deserving MVP candidates early on, but you also don’t want him to feel like he has to do everything, which is easier said than done when his top wide receiver and most explosive running back so far are both out this week. The sample isn’t large, of course, but the star quarterback has quietly had some difficulty on third down and in the fourth quarter this season, which has been a stark contrast to his excellence the rest of the time. The Bengals weren’t exactly impressive over the first quarter of the season, but their offensive skill talent speaks for itself and they have athletes at every level of their defense to help keep Jackson from going off without the same help around him. I expect a close score throughout the evening, but the truth is I have a tough time trusting Baltimore to play a full 60 minutes in a game like this until I see it, especially against a division rival who’s had their number recently and is healthier coming into Week 5.