The Ravens had little time to revel in a blowout Week 1 victory with their Thursday trip to Cincinnati.
The second game of the season hardly approaches must-win territory, but each team has an opportunity to improve to 2-0 in the AFC North while Pittsburgh is coming off a tie with lowly Cleveland and continuing to experience life without Le’Veon Bell. A Thursday road game is a daunting challenge, but the early-season timing is a plus, especially after head coach John Harbaugh enjoyed the luxury of resting a number of key veterans in the second half of the 47-3 win over Buffalo.
“When you get late in the year, your bodies have just taken such a beating already,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “I’m not really saying this from personal experience, but just talking to some of the guys playing along the line of scrimmage, I think it’s definitely an advantage to do it early when you haven’t kind of taken the brunt of the whole season.”
It’s time to go on the record as these division rivals collide for the 45th time in the all-time regular-season series with each team owning 22 wins and the Bengals enjoying a 14-8 advantage in Cincinnati. The Ravens have lost five of the last six played at Paul Brown Stadium, but they came away with an impressive 20-0 win there to open the 2017 season.
Below are five predictions for Thursday night:
1. Bengals receiver A.J. Green will catch a touchdown in a mostly quiet night when matched against Marlon Humphrey. Lost in the agony of “fourth-and-12” was the defense holding the Pro Bowl wideout to two catches for 17 yards in the 2017 finale, a surprising feat without Jimmy Smith. The Ravens typically haven’t used their top corner to travel with elite receivers in recent years, but Wink Martindale would be wise to pick his spots for Humphrey to do just that. Green will find the end zone and be more productive this time around, but the Ravens won’t let him wreck the game.
2. Alex Collins and Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon will both eclipse 75 total yards with a touchdown apiece. Not that it was needed with the passing game carving up the Bills, but the Ravens struggled to run the ball, averaging just 1.5 yards per carry in the first half and 3.4 for the game. Their offensive line will fare better against a Bengals front that gave up 4.2 yards per carry in 2017. Meanwhile, Mixon nearly eclipsed 100 yards against Baltimore last December and had 149 total yards last week. Neither back will find a ton of running room, but they’ll help keep their offenses on schedule.
3. Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins will register a sack and give Matt Skura big problems. One of the best matchups of the last several years in the NFL has been Atkins against six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda as both are among the absolute best at their positions, but the bigger concern is how Skura and the still-inexperienced Alex Lewis will hold up against the 300-pound defensive tackle. The coaching staff will use double teams and as much misdirection as they can, but Atkins will be disruptive against the run and pressure the pocket more than anyone did for Buffalo.
4. C.J. Mosley will collect a sack and an interception to set up a touchdown. The Pro Bowl inside linebacker didn’t have a monster statistical output in Week 1, but he was part of a strong effort to bottle up LeSean McCoy. Two of Mosley’s eight career interceptions have come against Cincinnati, and his coverage will be vital as Andy Dalton relies on short throws to tight ends and running backs to offset Baltimore’s rush. He’ll add another pick to put the Ravens on a short field and register a quarterback takedown as Martindale tests Bengals rookie center Billy Price with stunts and A-gap blitzes.
5. Joe Flacco and the passing game will come back to earth, but the Ravens will do just enough in a 20-17 win. It’s no secret the 11th-year quarterback has struggled against the Bengals throughout his career, and former Baltimore assistant Teryl Austin figures to show some new wrinkles in his first year running the Cincinnati defense. However, Ravens quarterbacks coach James Urban spent the last seven years as a Bengals assistant, giving him some useful intel to combat their defense. Thursday games are rarely pretty because of the truncated time to prepare in addition to the physical challenges of a short week, which will keep scoring down as both teams plod through this one. If you subscribe to the idea of a playoff-hopeful team needing to go no worse than .500 on the road, this looks like one of the more reasonable games on the schedule to secure a victory. It won’t be pretty, but I’m buying more stock in the Ravens than the Bengals at this point as Harbaugh’s team will improve to 2-0.