The Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens enter their first battle of the 2021 season in great spots.
Baltimore has performed as expected, gunning out to a 5-1 record. Cincinnati has done much of the same on the way to 4-2, primarily based on an easy opening schedule and the idea Joe Burrow’s return would elevate the whole team.
It certainly has, as he’s led a couple of game-winning drives and finally played in a full 16 games — and those 16-game numbers look great. It sure doesn’t hurt that he’s flanked by great weapons, headlined by Ja’Marr Chase, as well as a strong defense.
These Ravens are at home though and the record is no fluke. The only loss is an overtime one to a 4-2 Las Vegas team and the win column includes defeats of Kansas City and the Los Angeles Chargers.
Lamar Jackson, of course, is the main reason the Ravens keep rolling. He’s completed 67.5 percent of his passes (career-high) with 1,686 yards and nine touchdowns and averages 8.7 yards per attempt (career-high). He’s also the offense’s leading rusher with 392 yards and two scores on a 6.1 average.
The above isn’t to suggest the details surrounding Jackson aren’t good. But the Ravens have had one of the league’s worst injury bugs so far, with 19 names on IR, including Derek Wolfe, Gus Edwards, Marcus Peters, J.K. Dobbins and Ronnie Stanley.
Normally that might make it easy to say the Bengals have an advantage and call it a day. But it’s not that easy against Jackson, the guy who bested Cincinnati to the tune of 38-3 and 27-3 outcomes last season.
If nothing else, this year’s game should be a much tighter affair. Chase should be able to capitalize on weak points in the Baltimore secondary. And if safety help and double teams finally arrive, guys like Tee Higgins can make a difference. An upgraded defense should generate more pressure than last year and D.J. Reader in the middle should mean ‘backers like Logan Wilson can better contain Jackson.
But it’s a little too early to crown the Bengals as a team that can go in and best the Ravens right now. Truth is, they’ve faced five teams with middling quarterbacks, plus Aaron Rodgers. Jackson is none of those guys, including Rodgers.
The good news? Even keeping it close would be a great sign — and it would let this young team learn some lessons on the fly, plus in the film room before the Week 16 rematch.
Prediction: Ravens 27, Bengals 23