Week three could prove to be pivotal when we're looking back at the end of the season. Getting off to a 3-0 start is obviously a good thing for the Bengals. If the Bengals do pull off the win, putting the Ravens at 0-3 would be as big if not bigger than the Bengals' own hot start. Teams that have started a season 0-3 have made the playoffs 2 percent of the time in the Super Bowl era. At the other end of the spectrum, teams that start 3-0 have made the playoffs 76 percent of the time. There would be nothing better than basically extinguishing a division rival's playoff flame while throwing gas on your own this early in the season.
Despite their 2-0 record, the Ravens will be a challenge for the Bengals. I cannot remember an "easy" game with the Ravens as opponents. Going into Baltimore and leaving with a win is no easy task, and the Bengals know that. The Ravens also have never started 0-3 and have that threat looming when the Bengals come to town on Sunday.
Who will be the pivotal role players in a potential Bengals' win? I'm not putting Andy Dalton on this list because... well it's obvious that he has to play well.
1.) Jeremy Hill
Since the Dalton and Russell Bodine haters haven't had much to talk about this season, one of the few Bengals underperforming to start the season is Jeremy Hill. The Bengals are sticking with Hill as the starter in Week 3, despite his ball security issues. This is still the same guy who amassed 1,013 total yards from Weeks 8-16 last year. While Giovani Bernard has been dynamite thus far, Hill will need to mend his issues for the stretch run. He is a workhorse back who can wear teams down in any conditions. Whether it's merely a mental issue, confidence problem , or whatever else, there's no time like the present to get back on track.
2.) Rey Maualuga
I could say the entire line backing corps here, but I'm going to choose Maualuga this week. If there's one thing you can count on, it's the Bengals' linebackers having a hard time covering tight ends. Opposing tight ends absolutely terrify me every week. If they are competent, they can expose the lack of coverage skills possessed by Maualuga. Crockett Gillmore caught five passes for 88 yards last week, including two touchdowns. You can expect him to get his fair share of looks this week when he is covered by Maualuga.
3.) Michael Johnson
Justin Forsett is a quick back who loves to get to the edge. While Johnson may not be a great pass rusher, he is more known for his play against the run and his ability to set the edge. Johnson has been a little below the level we were accustomed to seeing him play at when he wore number 93. A lack of participation during the preseason due to a knee injury will do that to a player. With a couple of games under his belt, the hope is that he will acclimate into football shape so he can play to his potential. Against a speedy back like Forsett, it may be a necessity.
4.) A.J. Green
We are due for a true A.J. Green game. You know what I'm talking about. One of those 11 catches for 193 yards and two touchdown games where he just can't be covered. Up to this point, A.J. has been performing subpar by his standards. Stats be damned, we know the Ravens are going to pose a challenge to the Bengals' offense. The easiest way to counter that is to let your all-world wide receiver go to work.
5.) Mike Nugent
I, like many of you, am not expecting a blowout in either direction. There's a pretty good chance that this game could be decided by a very small margin. Nuge has already had an extra point blocked and he pushed a field goal last week. In a divisional game, the Bengals cannot afford to leave points on the field.