The Cincinnati Bengals (2-6) visit B-More this week to take on the Ravens (4-4). At the beginning of the season, this looked to be a battle for first in the AFC North. Instead, it is a fight to stay out of the basement. The Ravens are coming off their worst loss of the Brian Billick era, and desperately need a win to have any chance of a 2nd half resurgence. The Bengals, a popular preseason pick to win the division, are playing like the Bungles of old, and desperately need a win to keep coach Marvin Lewis’ head off the chopping block for at least another week.
The Ravens, for whatever reason, always seem to bring out the best in the Bengals. They have the purple-and-black’s number, having won 4 of the last 5 meetings. The Ravens secondary, even when healthy, always has trouble containing the Bengals star wide receivers, Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Ocho Cinco suffered what looked to be a serious neck/spine injury last Sunday against Buffalo, but practiced on Wednesday, and seems likely to play. The Bengals also get certified bungle-hole Chris Henry back from his 8 game suspension just in time to bring him along to M&T. A complete Cincinnati receiving corps is bad news for Ravens fans, as the Ravens will again be shorthanded in the secondary. Samari Rolle’s mystery illness has resurfaced to sideline him for the second straight week, and Chris McAlister is said to be a game-time decision with his knee injury. If Rolle and McAlister are both out, and Johnson is in….well, we shudder to think.
On offense (if you want to call it that), the Ravens have a chance to get on the right track this week against one of the worst defenses in the NFL. The Ravens would be well advised to make certain that Willis McGahee touches the ball no less than 25-30 times against a unit giving up 143 yards per game on the ground. The Bengals are equally atrocious defending the pass, allowing over 250 aerial yards per contest, but the sight of Steve McNair dropping back to fumble…er…pass is not something we hope to see more than 20-25 times Sunday. Speaking of McNair, he has staunchly defended himself this week (why not, nobody seems to have trouble defending him these days) and stated that he his still capable of performing at a high level. Coach Billick stands behind him, and as early as the post-game conference in Pittsburgh had named McNair the unquestioned starter. If he plays anything like he did against the Steelers in the first half Sunday, though, don’t be surprised to see Billick go to the well and put Kyle Boller in. Even though it is probably “six one way, half dozen the other” with Boller and McNair, at least with Kyle the defense has to at least THINK that the Ravens could – maybe, possibly, if the stars align correctly and a butterfly flaps its wings in Africa and the tide is coming in – throw the ball more than 10 yards.
The Bengals should not, and likely will not, even bother trying to run the ball Sunday. They will come out throwing, attack the Ravens reeling secondary, and they WILL put points on the board. Make no mistake about it, Carson Palmer knows how to beat this defense, and without Rolle and/or McAlister, it will be easy pickin’s for him. The game will come down to whether or not the Ravens are able to run their methodical, ball-control game, keep the Bengals’ O off the field, and get 6 points instead of 3 when they have the opportunity. In a match-up between evenly matched (yes, the Ravens are, unfortunately, evenly matched with a 2-6 team) teams, we give the advantage to the Ravens, simply because they always play much better at home.
Ravens 24 Bengals 21