To say that the game this Sunday in Baltimore against the Ravens is a huge one for the Bengals would be an understatement. Win it and the division is almost sewn up, lose and the entire AFC North becomes extremely convoluted and Cincinnati will have two division rivals nipping at their heels. As I mentioned earlier in the week, this game marks the starting line for a two-month long test.
If the Bengals can win their next two games, which happen to be against division rivals back-to-back, they would stand at 8-3 and likely have a three-game lead in the division with five games to play after their subsequent bye week. Yes, folks: that would indeed be huge.
Inside Some Numbers:
Unfortunately, the Bengals and Andy Dalton haven't had the same type of success against the Ravens that the team had with Carson Palmer as quarterback. For his faults and what fans think of him, Palmer did post a 9-4 record against Baltimore as the Bengals starting quarterback (Palmer was injured for one loss incurred in 2008 and was the backup in 2003 for a loss where Jon Kitna was the starter), which is respectable, but only two of those wins were against head coach John Harbaugh who has five playoff appearances.
Dalton, on the other hand, has just one win in four tries against the Ravens. That lone win came in Week 17 last season where it would be tough to credit him with that win, as he didn't even play a full half of football and both teams were in rest-up mode for their impending postseason . That 1-3 record against the Ravens includes an 0-2 record in the city of Baltimore. Couple that with a 2-3 road record where the two wins have come on last-second (or overtime) field goals, and it appears that the Bengals have their work cut out for them.
The Bengals have done well in beating teams this year who have traditionally gave them fits. Buffalo, New England, the New York Jets and Detroit Lions have proven to be pesky foes. The Ravens have jumped into that mix the past few seasons--will Cincinnati slay another beast in 2013?
The Ray Rice Effect:
In short, Rice has absolutely dominated the Bengals in the three Dalton era games that have mattered (again, excluding the 2012 Week 17 matchup). In those three games, Rice has run for 363 yards on 54 carries (6.7 yards per carry average) with six touchdowns on the ground. Ouch. Additionally, Rice has racked up seven receptions for 92 yards. Aside from the occasional big play by Torrey Smith, Rice has been the catalyst to the Ravens' offense in their past three wins against the Bengals.
While those numbers don't bode well for a banged up Cincinnati defense, the 2013 numbers for Rice stack up a bit better. The three-time Pro Bowl running back has just 297 yards, three touchdowns and a 2.7 yards per carry average this year in seven games played. He has battled nagging injuries, inconsistent offensive line play and a roster decimation of surrounding talent because of salary cap and age issues.
Which Ray Rice will be seen on Sunday? The 2011-2012 version that has ripped the Bengals, or the 2013 version who is microcosm of the disappointing 3-5 start by his team? We'll see.
A Loss of Leadership On The Field:
Both teams have suffered major personnel losses this season, be it by injury, retirement, free agency and/or trade. Baltimore has lost locker room leaders and questions have surfaced on if that is the reason for their uninspired play on the field this season. While that is entirely possible, a Super Bowl hangover could be playing a part in that well.
Cincinnati has lost two huge defensive leaders in Geno Atkins and Leon Hall. Both are and will be missed on the field and in the locker room and lead a long laundry list of injuries on that side of the ball. The defense put up a solid effort in the second half against the Dolphins without both of the aforementioned players, but an AFC North slugfest could be a different story.
Which team will be able to get past their roster issues in a more effective way on Sunday?