The AFC North is one of the toughest divisions in football, thanks in part to the Baltimore Ravens. Even so, the Cincinnati Bengals have had far more success in the head-to-head matchups against the Ravens than in those against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
If we know one thing about the series between Cincinnati and Baltimore, it’s to expect the unexpected. Some crazy outcomes have been on display in recent years and that will probably occur again in 2018. The Bengals play their home opener against the Ravens in a Week 2 Thursday Night Football clash and for the first time in years do not close the season against the Ravens. So, what should we expect from Baltimore in 2018?
Team: Baltimore Ravens
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SB Nation Blog:
For the 11th season in a row, John Harbaugh leads the Ravens. Baltimore had some great runs under his watch from 2008-2014, where the team made the postseason in seven out of the eight seasons.
However, Baltimore is coming off of three consecutive years of not being in the playoffs, including two seasons under .500. Quarterback Joe Flacco has shown some signs of regression since his amazing 2012 postseason run, prompting the team to select Lamar Jackson with the No. 32 overall pick this spring.
Harbaugh has done some great things with the Ravens, but because of the recent lack of success, one has to wonder how long his leash is at the moment.
Recapping last season:
Over the years, this rivalry between the Bengals and Ravens has been very back-and-forth. That was no more obvious than the two 2017 matchups. Baltimore stomped Cincinnati to start off the season, 20-0, with the Ravens taking advantage of five Andy Dalton turnovers (four interceptions, one lost fumble).
However, with the Bengals playing only for pride in Week 17 and the Ravens trying to become a Wild Card team, more of the trademark wackiness from this rivalry ensued. On a fourth-and-12 with 44 seconds to play, Dalton hit Tyler Boyd for a 49-yard touchdown to send the Ravens home for the rest of January.
Even with their crushing loss at the end of the year, Baltimore finished the 2017 in a strong way. They went 6-3 over the final nine contests and played some of their best ball down the stretch.
History with Cincinnati:
Get this: in 44 games between the Ravens and Bengals, the overall record currently sits at 22-22. Yet, despite the parity in the overall rivalry, Marvin Lewis has had some decent success against his former employer.
Under Lewis, Cincinnati is 18-12 against Baltimore since 2003. Additionally, since Andy Dalton became the Bengals’ quarterback in 2011, the team is 8-6 against the Ravens.
And, it’s in the Dalton era where some of the craziest contests have ensued in the rivalry. Last year’s finale aside, a 2014 overtime game that was created by a Hail Mary to A.J. Green and the shootout in Week 3 of 2015 have recently decided outcomes of these games.
2018 season outlook:
The Ravens had arguably the most enigmatic draft class of any team this spring. Instead of grabbing those speedy outside receivers they have often loved, they grabbed two pass-catching tight ends with their first four picks in Hayden Hurst at No. 25 and Mark Andrews at No. 86 overall.
They also grabbed gigantic tackle Orlando Brown at No. 83 overall to try and shore up their offensive line. In free agency, they also attempted to bolster the offense by adding wide receivers Michael Crabtree and John Brown, quarterback Robert Griffin III and re-signing guard James Hurst.
Baltimore didn’t make any splashy moves for their defense, as the unit ranked 12th in yards allowed per game in 2017. However, some day three talent they grabbed in Anthony Averett, Kenny Young and DeShon Elliott should help with depth on that side of the ball.
Week 2, Thursday, September 13th, 8:20 p.m. ET on NFL Network
Week 11, Sunday, November 18th, 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 2 Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
Week 11 M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Maryland
Odds of Bengals victories:
Week 2: 35-40 percent
Week 11: 50-55 percent
The very early outlook:
It’s a perfect storm of issues for the Bengals as they host Baltimore in Week 2. Star linebacker Vontaze Burfict will be right in the middle of serving his four-game suspension, while the team still can’t consistently find ways to beat quality teams on the national primetime stage.
While Baltimore may be hitting its stride in the middle of the year and they’ll be hosting the Bengals in Week 11, Burfict will be back and Cincinnati’s youngsters might be getting comfortable in their roles.
As you can tell by the record, the teams appear to almost always split the series. We expect that to probably be the case again this year.