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NFL Week 5 Bengals at Ravens game preview: Who’s who?

The Bengals travel to Baltimore to take on the immensely-talented Ravens. It’s a turning point in the 2020 season for both franchises.

Statement games.

While they exist at many levels of respective sports, they are more prevalent at the college and pro ranks. One could make the argument that Week 5 in Baltimore is one such example for the Ravens and Bengals.

The Baltimore Ravens are in the familiar position of hovering around the top of the AFC North with a 3-1 record. They have nice wins over the Browns, Texans and Washington, however, they have the familiar blemish of a loss to the Chiefs.

For Cincinnati, they’re a paltry 1-2-1, but they could have two or three wins right now. Their lone victory is against a less-than-impressive Jaguars team and they are subsequently a two-touchdown underdog against the Ravens.

A Baltimore win and they’re in cruise control to the postseason. A Bengals win and their slim postseason chances get revived, while Joe Burrow gets his first signature win as a pro quarterback.

When it comes to the Bengals, one could make the argument that they’re trending in the right direction heading into this tough matchup. After two losses (wherein at least one win was attainable), Cincinnati has taken baby steps in the form of a tie and win the past two weeks, respectively.

Quarterback Joe Burrow is emerging as one of the top passers in the league after setting a rookie record with three 300-yard-plus consecutive passing games and being a Pro Football Focus darling. After spending a No. 1 overall pick on Burrow and through just four games, it appears the Bengals have solved the problem at the most critical position in professional sport.

Running back Joe Mixon had his best game as a pro last Sunday, and, not coincidentally, the offensive line played its best game in quite some time. One would like to think that things are coming together under Zac Taylor, but again...Jacksonville.

While the Bengals are one of the most patient franchises in the NFL, the temperature under Taylor’s chair has been cranked up the past few weeks. Fans were beginning to grab the pitchforks and light the torches, with the hordes undoubtedly galvanizing should the Jaguars have beaten Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium last Sunday.

Taylor staved off the masses for a week, but everyone in Who Dey-ville wants to see marked improvement in 2020. Depending on who you ask, this week may or may not play into that barometer because of Baltimore’s lofty expectations, but another 49-13 drubbing like we saw late last year won’t fly.

Meanwhile, the Ravens are in familiar territory. For a franchise that is one of the youngest in the NFL, they know how to consistently sniff championships. As they continue to figure out ways to beat Patrick Mahomes, their focus continues to be through the AFC North.

Jackson has seven touchdowns against just one interception through the air this year, while also racking up 235 rushing yards this year. If one outside of the unkindness of the Ravens’ inner circle was hoping for the “Madden curse”, it isn’t rearing its ugly head, yet.

If there’s a tarnish to point out of the Ravens’ 2020 resume, it’s in that 3-1 record. Their loss is against an AFC powerhouse for which they have yet to provide an answer, while their wins bring a mixed bag.

The Browns are 3-1, but Baltimore defeated them in Week 1 without any semblance of a postseason. Cleveland is on a three-game winning streak since this loss. Houston and Washington—the other two notches on the Ravens’ 2020 belt—are a combined 1-7 to this point.

So, who’s who?

Complicating things this week, as always, is the injury report.

For the Bengals, things are trending upward for the first time in weeks. Their up-and-down defense is getting back linebacker Logan Wilson, who has been an ascending rookie linebacker, while linchpin Geno Atkins is seemingly making his 2020 debut this Sunday.

To the credit of Cincinnati’s ownership and Taylor’s coaching staff, they overhauled that side of the ball specifically for this week. They have had five linebacker acquisitions this offseason and added a handful of defensive linemen in an effort to contain Jackson.

Baltimore has its stud left tackle, Ronnie Stanley, on the injury report once again, after his missed last week. And, Lamar Jackson missed two consecutive practices this week with a knee issue and an illness. Both are expected to play against the Bengals, however.

The big question this week is in how the Bengals should be approaching this game. With Burrow under Sunday and a myriad of offensive weapons, should Taylor and Burrow look to sling it around the yard? Or, is a stout defense the name of the game?

Of course, “both” is the correct answer for Cincinnati, but that may not be possible.

For how explosive the Ravens’ offense is, their defense is uncharacteristically vulnerable. They can’t get to the passer without blitzing, while their defense against the pass is nowhere near as stout as tradition would dictate.

Point, Burrow.

Oddly enough, this one could come down to the kickers. Justin Tucker is the best there has ever been and continuously bails out the Ravens’ offense, while Randy Bullock has been absolutely perfect, aside from the critical Week 1 miss against the Chargers.

As mentioned earlier, the Bengals could have at least one more win this year. Questions remain as to whether it’s a younger team trying to find its way, or if this massively-talented roster is under-achieving.

Part of what makes this matchup so intriguing, aside from the Heisman-winning quarterbacks is in a cat-and-mouse, weakness-versus-strengths-type of game. Perceived shortcomings goings against data-proven issues and vice-versa.

As odd as it may seem, this game isn’t even really about who is better and who has the more recent track record of success. Rather, it’s about whose strengths and weaknesses outweigh those of their respective counterpart’s. This is what will tell the tale of the tape.

The wild card for this game is A.J. Green. He has traditionally torched the Ravens, but hasn’t found his stride yet in 2020. Even with the emergence of Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, Green’s emergence as “the guy” will pay off immensely for Cincinnati.

He’s a key for the Bengals, but his performance also provides a compass for what Cincinnati should do in the days ahead. Regardless of if No. 18 dominates the stat lines, it will pave a direction in which the franchises needs to be pointed.

Overall, a lot of aspects point to a Ravens win on their home turf. There is very little reason to pick the Bengals outside of Burrow and the injury report.

For some, that’s reason enough.

Our partner for game previews this year, Pickswise, weighed in on the matchup. They think a lot of points will be scored this weekend:

This NFL season has been defined by high-scoring games so far and this looks another to top the total. As already mentioned, the Bengals have had no trouble putting points on the board but they have also been shipping plenty of scores on defense. Given Cincy have allowed the fifth-most rushing yards this season, they have their work cut out containing Lamar Jackson. Baltimore has scored the third-most points in the AFC, averaging 30.5 per game, and it’s hard to see this game going much differently. Back the total to go over.

Pickswise also has the Bengals covering a 13-point spread, through their simulator, for whatever that’s worth. Moral victories seem to be engrained in a Bengals fan’s DNA, but that just doesn’t seem to be satisfactory right now.

A covering of spreads would mean baby steps towards a successful run after 2020, or for the impatient ones, it could indicate a treading of water. It’s all about how you look at it and which lens you use.

If you’re a bettor, the Bengals covering many lines in this game seem to child’s play. Don’t point us towards your bookie here, but Cincinnati should make this interesting, in terms of a number of lines.

Bengals 24, Ravens 33

AC — Do it for Lisa.