Finally, finally, FINALLY we get a great matchup on Thursday Night Football. This is the best TNF game since Week ONE when the Kansas City Chiefs hosted the Detroit Lions. I think that I speak for everyone who loves football when I say, “it’s about damn time!”. This week we get to watch the Cincinnati Bengals at the Baltimore Ravens! Not only is this a divisional match-up between two potential playoff teams, but they come from the TOUGHEST division in football. Here’s your breakdown, preview and prediction to what is sure to be a fantastic game!
Cincinnati Bengals (5-4)
The first question that you may or may not be asking yourself…”Is this a MUST WIN for the Bengals?”. Answer: YES! I understand that the Bengals are 5-4, but they are LAST in the AFC North behind the Ravens, the Steelers (6-3), and the Browns (6-3). If they lose, not only do the Ravens then move to 8-3, making winning the AFC North almost impossible for the Bengals, but that would also put Cinci tied for 8th in the AFC at 5-5 with the Bills, Raiders, and Colts. Their remaining schedule is NOT favorable against Pittsburgh twice, at Jacksonville, at Kansas City, Minnesota, Indianapolis, and Cleveland.
Joe Burrow is not the Burrow from the last two seasons. In 2023 we are seeing “Average Joe”. After nine games, Burrow is 12th in both passing TDs and interceptions, 13th in passing yards, 14th in pass completion percentage, 15th in Passer Rating, and 18th in QBR. Joe has also taken 22 sacks this season which is tied for 10th worst in the league. Yes, he had the calf issue in the beginning of the year, and yes, the Bengals have started out 5-4 the last two seasons and still made the AFC Championship Game each time. HOWEVER, if that’s what you’re leaning on to prop up this season, I think you’re going to be very disappointed in December.
“Joe Shiesty” has the same cast of weapons around him this year with the addition of Orlando Brown Jr at Left Tackle to protect his blind side. Running Back, Joe Mixon has been his normal, above-average self, rushing for 536 yards (12th) for 3.9 yards per carry and four TDs. Mixon will probably finish with what he usually finishes with; 1,100 yards and seven or eight TDs on the season. The Bengals receivers are led by Ja’Marr Chase who is tied for 4th in receptions with 69, tied for 7th in yards with 821, and tied for 10th in TDs with five. There is a drop-off from there with Tyler Boyd who has 44 receptions for 471 yards and two TDs, and then Tee Higgins who has 27 receptions for 328 yards and two TDs as well.
The Bengals defense is led by Linebackers Logan Wilson who has 70 total tackles on the year (26th in the NFL) and three interceptions, and Germaine Pratt, who has 68 total tackles. Defensive End Trey Hendrickson, who has 8.5 sacks this season (tied for 7th in the league) will play tonight, but DE Sam Hubbard has been ruled out. Cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt is leading the team with four interceptions, which is also third best in the NFL. All of these stats may look really good, but the reality is that the Cinci D is 30th in the league for both yards given up per game and rushing yards allowed per game. They’re 25th is rushing yards given up per game, and 16th in points allowed per game.
Baltimore Ravens (7-3)
Lamar Jackson is still playing. That’s a plus considering that he couldn’t finish the last two years due to season-ending injuries. LJ is tied for 2nd in pass completion at 70.3%, 9th in Passer Rating, 12th in QBR, 14th in passing yards, and tied for 21st for interceptions thrown. However, Lamar has also taken the 7th most sacks in the league, and he’s 19th in TD passes. Jackson is also second on the team and 21st in the NFL in rushing yards at 481, averaging 5.2 yards per carry with five TDs. Jackson IS a dual-threat and currently a candidate for MVP.
Baltimore’s offense as a whole is dangerous and should cause frustration for the deficient Bengals defense.
The Ravens are first for rushing yards per game (154 ypg), 5th in points per game (27) and 9th for average yards per game (359). Running Back Gus Edwards is 17th in the league with 502 rushing yards, averaging 4.1 yards per game with eight TDs, which is good for third in the NFL. RB Justice Hill has 258 yards on the year, averaging 4.3 yards per carry with three touchdowns, and rookie phenom Keaton Mitchell has 172 yards in four limited games, averaging 14.3 yards per carry. Look for B-More to utilize Mitchell more tonight than in last weeks’ loss to the Browns.
The Ravens shouldn’t need to rely on their wide receivers too much tonight, and I would recommend that they don’t unless it’s to keep the Bengals defense off the line to allow B-more to rush for more yards. Rookie Zay Flowers leads the team in receptions (50) and yards (545), followed closely by Tight End Mark Andrews who has 43 receptions on the year for 521 yards and six touchdowns, which is tied for fifth in the NFL. Odell Beckham Jr has been getting more involved lately, and can still be a threat (especially for getting defensive pass interference calls), accumulating 18 receptions for 258 yards and two TDs.
Defensively Baltimore is led by arguably the best ILB duo in the league. Roquan Smith is third in the NFL in total tackles with 108, and Patrick Queen is tied for 12th in the league with 84 tackles.
Queen also has 3.5 sacks and these two seem to be in on every play. DE Justin Madubuike is leading the team in sacks with 8.5 (7th in the league) with Jadeveon Clowney (5.5) and Kyle Van Noy (5) right behind him. Safety Geno Stone leads the NFL in interceptions with six, and seems to be the Ravens new “ball hawk”. As a whole, the Ravens are best in the NFL in points allowed per game (15.7), rank second in yards allowed per game (273), 4th in passing yards allowed, and 11th in rushing yards allowed.
The Ravens beat the Bengals in Cincinnati in their first match-up in Week Two by a score of 27-24. This time they’re playing in Baltimore, which SHOULD give the Ravens some home field advantage. However, both teams are coming off losses at home last week. The Bengals dropped what should have been an “easier” win against the Houston Texans, and the Ravens self-destructed once again and lost with zero time remaining in the game after leading for 59 minutes and 20 seconds to division rival Cleveland. Ouch. If there is a team that’s coming off a “deflated” loss, it’s Cinci. If there’s a team that’s pissed off at itself, it’s Baltimore.
What this game will come down to is TURNOVERS. Cincinnati is the best in turnover differential at +10. They have accumulated 12 INTs and six fumbles while only giving up six INTs and an NFL best two fumbles.
The same cannot be said about Baltimore. The Ravens are only a +1. While they’ve only thrown five INTs, they have fumbled the ball NINE times, which is third most in the NFL. Most of those have come from Lamar, and his blind side will be protected by Patrick Mekari tonight instead of their starting Left Tackle, Ronnie Stanley. Mekari is a GREAT backup, but the trends don’t lie. Lamar is going to need to read the field quicker, and make decisions faster before Hendrickson or BJ Hill can get to him. IF Cincinnati wins the turnover differential in this game, they will likely win.
The Bengals offense is not firing on all cylinders. They are dead last is rushing yards per game, 24th in overall yards per game and 20th is points per game. If they Ravens want to win this, they are going to have to rely on their defense to shut down the Bengals run game, make them one-dimensional, and get them off the field. Baltimore will be without starting Cornerback Marlon Humphrey tonight so this may be a challenge to cover Ja’Marr Chase. However, if the Ravens can run the ball (like we know they can), then they should be able to control the clock, keep Joey B and company off the field and get the “dub”. I’ll take the Ravens over the Bengals 30-23. Thanks for the “read”!