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NFL Week 2 Ravens at Bengals game preview: Elite statuses

After impressive Week 1 wins by both Baltimore and Cincinnati, a huge Thursday Night Football contest might decide who the real charlatans are early in 2018.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Week 1 of the NFL isn’t a great measuring stick for determining future success in a given season. Even so, there are valuable takeaways for both the Bengals and Ravens’ fan bases to cling to as their squads clash on Thursday Night Football in Week 2.

The last time we saw the Ravens and Bengals face each other was on New Year’s Eve, 2017. Apparently, the Bengals have decided to become “The Cardiac Cats” once again as the calendar sniffed 2018.

Nine months after dashing the Ravens’ playoff dreams in dramatic fashion, the Bengals overcame a 13-point second-half deficit to shock the Colts on their home turf. That kind of never-say-die attitude is what champions are made of.

But, hey, it’s just one game from these new-look Bengals. Let’s pump the brakes a little bit.

For instance, they let Andrew Luck throw for over 300 yards after his year-long hiatus from the game. Luck used nine different receivers on Sunday, including—you guessed it—three tight ends.

Cincinnati also had other opportunities to either keep the score closer, and/or to ice it earlier. Three or four interception opportunities were dropped by Bengals defenders, not only breathing life back into the Colts’ offense, but forcing themselves to play catch-up most of the afternoon.

On offense, the right side of the line had issues, particularly in pass protection, while Billy Price had some predictable rookie struggles. Despite that, Andy Dalton, Joe Mixon and Co. scraped a win together in a comeback style in which has to be marveled.

Because of some of the aforementioned issues, what’s difficult to decipher from these 2018 Bengals is just how much improvement they have made from last season. Their roster appears to be younger, faster and containing more depth, but familiar issues made the afternoon an uneasy one.

One thing is interesting though, in terms of the needle ticking towards the positive. Four of their nine losses last year were determined by one possession—all of which they had some form of a late lead and blew it (Texans, Packers, Titans and Steelers). Maybe Week 1 of this year is pointing to a different trend.

It’s only one game against an enigmatic Indianapolis team, but Cincinnati showed resolve on Sunday. Many of the players could have packed it in when they were down 23-10, but the team just continued to grind it out and make a handful of explosive plays to win the contest.

As it is with Cincinnati, we’re not totally sure who the Ravens are either, at this point. They absolutely demolished the Bills in Week 1, but played against quarterbacks who combined for a stat line of 11-of-33 for 98 yards and two interceptions.

Incredible defense, or a simple luck of the scheduling draw in getting a rebuilding team in the always-ambiguous opening week? A bit of both, perhaps?

Baltimore made a concerted effort to revamp their receiver corps this offseason. Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead and John Brown were all added to their roster and all three had touchdown receptions last week.

What’s also scary for the Bengals’ defense is the plethora of pass-catching tight ends the Ravens employ. Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams and Mark Andrews all logged stats last week, but Hayden Hurst also has the potential to be a powerful weapon in Joe Flacco’s arsenal.

Regardless of the roller coaster of seasons we’ve seen from the Ravens in recent seasons, few head coaches have the respect that John Harbaugh does in this league. If he and Flacco have done their homework this week, which they undoubtedly have, they’ll look to decimate the Bengals’ defense with that tight end group using both critical chain-moving and red zone plays.

But, we just can’t discount the Bengals’ deplorable performances in primetime. It’s been particularly bad since the team rebuilt itself back in 2011 and, unfortunately, it’s what a large amount of their reputation has been built upon in national circles.

Remember the last time these two squared-off under the brightest lights? No, I’m not talking about the late afternoon game on New Year’s Eve last year.

In 2012, Cincinnati headed to Baltimore for an opening week Monday Night Football clash. The Ravens stomped the Bengals 44-13 in embarrassing fashion. Sure, the Bengals have largely had their number since, but it is a stark wake-up call to Who Dey Nation about what this team has done on the biggest stages and against the best NFL teams.

Even so, that lingering feeling of hope is growing within the walls of Paul Brown Stadium. A near-perfect preseason record, followed up with an exciting come-from-behind Week 1 win and their home opener against a divisional foe on national television is a pretty solid script.

Did we mention that Sam Wyche and his boys from the 1988 Super Bowl squad are being honored on Thursday night?

For all of the struggles Marvin Lewis has had against one of his former employers—the Pittsburgh Steelers—since becoming the head coach of the Bengals, he has a pretty solid record against his other former AFC North employer in the Ravens.

Since that shellacking on Week 1 of 2012, Cincinnati has posted an 8-3 record against the Ravens. Not too shabby against one of the teams always mentioned as an elite franchise.

I want to believe in this year’s team. Maybe some of that 30-year old Super Bowl magic will rub off on them on Thursday night. We’ll see.

Ravens 22, Bengals 24

AC — Leave your cynicism at the door.