In the past 11 NFL seasons, approximately 90 percent of teams who started 0-2 failed to make the playoffs, and the Bengals chances of making the playoffs at 1-0 are more than twice as large as the Colts now at 0-1.
A 2-0 start in no way guarantees the Bengals for a playoff berth, but it becomes statistically likely that those teams end up playing in January. That’s the goal for both the Bengals and the Ravens play on Thursday night in Cincinnati.
These are the positional matchups that could determine the outcome.
WR Tyler Boyd vs. CB Tavon Young
The Bengals third-year slot receiver probably isn’t a well liked man in Baltimore nowadays. His 49-yard touchdown in Week 17 last season against the Ravens knocked them out of the playoffs, and prolonged their streak since clinching a postseason birth to three years. They’re off to a good start after thrashing the Bills 47-3 at home last week, but they’ve no doubt remembered what Boyd did to them just nine months ago.
Boyd had the luxury of not going up against Young in the slot in his 91-yard performance that day, as Young missed all of 2017 with a torn ACL he suffered in June of that year. He looked very sharp in his first game back against the Bills, and will be matched up with Boyd inside all game.
Two of Boyd’s five games with over 60 yards receiving has come against Baltimore, and he has a tough matchup to do it for a third time. Luckily, the Bengals offense shouldn’t need him to.
C Billy Price vs. NT Brandon Williams
Baltimore has been a rough matchup for the Bengals interior offensive line in recent years. The Ravens interior defensive has gotten tremendously good since the Bengals offensive line in general started trending downwards, and Williams has been a monumental part of that.
Next to Williams is the underrated defensive tackle Michael Pierce, who is just as imposing as Williams. But Williams will be aligned as a shaded nose against Price, who is making just his second start of his career.
Of course, the center play Williams has had the luxury of going up against in Cincinnati has been dreadful, and he always took advantage.
Will the narrative continue in Price’s first Baltimore game, or will he step up to the challenge?
DE Carl Lawson vs. LT Ronnie Stanley
Lawson was preoccupied with chip blocks off the edge against the Colts and enters Week 2 with a sack. His rookie debut last year came against Stanley and the Ravens and while he also didn’t have a sack in that game, he held his own and beat the 2015 first-round pick multiple times on third-down.
The game was so lopsided it didn’t matter in the end, but Lawson’s debut was much better than his Week 17 performance, where Stanley locked him down in much more snaps against him.
The Bengals pass rush as a whole wasn’t enough against Andrew Luck and the Colts offense, but Joe Flacco isn’t the same quarterback in the pocket. With pressure, he’s much less mobile and won’t be able to extend plays as much if the pocket is so much as slightly broken.
Lawson has one of the tougher matchups along the defensive line, and will be relied on to break Flacco’s protection.
LBs Preston Brown/Hardy Nickerson vs. Baltimore’s tight ends
The Colts showed that defending the middle of the field is still the biggest weakness for the Bengals defense. The NFL, or the National Mesh League, will prey on teams who lack athleticism and open-field ability at linebacker, and we saw that when Brown and Nickerson were picked apart in coverage.
The Ravens have three tight ends who eclipsed 30 receiving yards, and this writer isn’t sure which one the Bengals should be the most worried about tomorrow night. Rookie Mark Andrews, third-year Nick Boyle and fourth-year Maxx Williams all had equivalent opportunity against the Bills, and on a short week, that may not change.
We also don’t know if either Brown or Nickerson will start, as Brown’s health is up in the air with a bum ankle. Whoever’s out there, the Bengals have a weakness in coverage when the Bengals are in their base defense.