With the Ravens aiming to secure a regular-season sweep with a home win over AFC North rival Cincinnati on Thursday night, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. “Must-win” descriptions are overused, but how pivotal is this division showdown? A Ravens win would give Cincinnati the same 5-5 record as Buffalo, only in a tougher division with a difficult remaining schedule. A loss drops previously white-hot Baltimore out of first place after two home defeats in five days.
2. Lamar Jackson is 14-3 as a starter in games following a loss while Joe Burrow and the Bengals are 9-4 after a defeat since the start of the 2021 campaign. Both teams are counting on elite bounce-back performances from their franchise quarterbacks after rough Week 10 outings.
3. It’s no secret Mike Macdonald’s defense has mostly kept Burrow in check with two-high safety looks to keep everything in front of the secondary and minimize big plays. The Ravens haven’t blitzed much due to Burrow’s quick release, but they’ll use simulated pressures to try to confuse the Bengals quarterback.
4. Such an approach emphasizes sound tackling, which was an uncharacteristic problem in the Cleveland loss. Considering the bye is still two weeks away and Baltimore played 78 defensive snaps against the Browns, you wonder if fatigue is becoming a concern. That said, the Bengals just played 75 defensive snaps themselves.
5. While I’m not buying the blown leads of the last two years warranting drastic changes, there have been too many late-game breakdowns to brush them off, especially when the knock on this otherwise successful team was its lack of January success before this trend even started. It’s a psyche question.
6. Though Patrick Mekari will fill in for the injured Ronnie Stanley, the reserve offensive tackle did an excellent job in Week 2 against Trey Hendrickson, who will play despite suffering a hyperextended knee last Sunday. This will be an interesting matchup to watch.
7. The performance and health of Cincinnati’s offensive line has been a big topic of discussion for several years, but it’s notable that the Bengals have used the same starting five for each of their first 10 games. Despite such continuity, Pro Football Focus currently ranks them 23rd in the NFL.
8. John Harbaugh’s answer about Keaton Mitchell’s playing time didn’t satisfy many fans, but it’s as close as you’ll get to an admission that the speedy rookie needs to be more involved. The proof will be in the pudding Thursday against a bad run defense banged up at defensive end.
9. Zay Flowers had a 15.7-yard average depth of target last Sunday, which was his highest mark since Week 5. He would have had an even bigger day if not for a bad overthrow on a deep shot, a misfire Jackson was still “pissed” about Tuesday. More of those to Flowers.
10. The first of Geno Stone’s NFL-leading six interceptions was the turning point in the Week 2 victory at Cincinnati, and it came against the man selected 218 spots ahead of him in the 2020 draft. Stone hasn’t gone two consecutive games without a pick all season.
11. While the Ravens are 19-3 in prime-time home games and 7-0 in Thursday home tilts in the Harbaugh era, the Bengals have lost 14 straight prime-time road games in the regular season and playoffs going back to the 2013 season. That’s a wild drought for a recent Super Bowl qualifier.
12. Baltimore hasn’t gone this deep into a season before playing its first prime-time game since 1997 and is now slotted for night games in four of its next five contests. While national TV games make for an electric atmosphere, Roquan Smith won’t be any more pumped than usual.
Prediction: From injury and entertainment standpoints, you’d prefer these AFC North rivals facing off on a Sunday or Monday night rather than a short week, but the Ravens and Bengals know each other very well, which should help make for a fun game despite the typical Thursday performances. Both teams appeared to be taking off before having their respective four-game winning streaks snapped this past Sunday, but Baltimore has resembled a legitimate Super Bowl contender more often than Cincinnati, who has been maddeningly inconsistent on both sides of the ball and has lost two games by 20-plus points this season. Squandering fourth-quarter leads in all three losses has been frustrating for the Ravens, but they haven’t lost back-to-back games started and finished by Jackson in three years. Even factoring a healthy version of Burrow this time around, I’ll take Baltimore to win a close 23-20 contest.